over the next decade, including surface and deep Earth processes and interdisciplinary research with fields such as ocean and atmospheric sciences, biology, engineering, computer science, and social and behavioral sciences.

2.  Identify key instrumentation and facilities needed to support these new and emerging research opportunities.

3.  Describe opportunities for increased cooperation in these new and emerging areas between EAR and other government agency programs, industry, and international programs.

4.  Suggest new ways that EAR can help train the next generation of Earth scientists, support young investigators, and increase the participation of underrepresented groups in the field.

The committee was not asked to evaluate existing EAR programs or make budgetary recommendations.


Basic research in the Earth sciences encompasses a wide range of physical, chemical, and biological processes that interact and combine in complex ways to produce a spectrum of terrestrial systems. EAR is currently sponsoring investigations on geosystems that range in geographic scale from global—climate, plate tectonics, and Earth’s core dynamo—to regional and local—mountain belts and sedimentary basins, active fault networks, volcanoes, groundwater reservoirs, watersheds, and soil systems—to micro-mineral interactions, microbiology, and pore fluid interactions. Research at all of these scales has been accelerated by a combination of conceptual advances and across-the-board improvements in observational capabilities and information technologies. The committee has identified seven topics involving major dynamic geosystems that can only be fully quantified by interdisciplinary approaches, organized by scale and disciplinary participation related to the EAR Deep Earth Processes and Surface Earth Processes sections: (1) the early Earth; (2) thermo-chemical internal dynamics and volatile distribution; (3) faulting and deformation processes; (4) interactions among climate, surface processes, tectonics, and deeper Earth processes; (5) co-evolution of life, environment, and climate; (6) coupled hydrogeomorphic-ecosystem responses to natural and anthropogenic change; and (7) biogeochemical and water cycles in terrestrial environments and impacts of global change. These research areas span a range of fundamental grand challenge questions from how the planet’s interior works to the evolution of the surface environment. In addition, the expanding demand for accurate geological dates to support many of the research opportunities motivates consideration of restructuring how EAR supports the geochronology facilities that must innovate methodologies, train next-generation geochemists, and service burgeoning demands for what is seldom routine dating of samples.


EAR has generally done an excellent job overall in developing and maintaining a balance among programs that support investigator-driven disciplinary research, problem-focused programs involving multidisciplinary research, and equipment-oriented programs for new instrumentation and facilities. The committee offers recommendations that address the evolving science requirements in all three of these programmatic areas. These recommendations pertain primarily to new mechanisms that will allow EAR to foster new research opportunities identified in this report.

Long-Term Investigator-Driven Science

In the next decade, and likely throughout the entire century to come, the quest to quantify Earth’s dynamic geosystems by establishing their history, current behavior, and future evolution will involve integrative interdisciplinary approaches that build on basic research advances in subdisciplinary capabilities. The primary recommendations in this report highlight opportunities to pursue integrative activities with high potential impact. However, as in many previous NRC reports on scientific research opportunities, this report again emphasizes the importance of sustaining subdisciplinary-based core Earth science research and facilities. Individual investigator-driven science remains the most creative and effective way to enhance the knowledge base upon which integrative efforts can

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