TABLE 3.1 Research Opportunity Framework


Research Opportunities




Research Areas

A. Understand Processes




I. Paleoenvironment and Biological Evolution

&#9632: Soil development, history, and contamination

&#9632: Glacier ice and its inclusions

&#9632: Quaternary record 

&#9632: Recent global changes 

&#9632: Paleogeography and paleoclimatology 

&#9632: Paleoceanography 

&#9632: Forcing factors in environmental change 

&#9632: History of life 

&#9632: Discovery and curation of fossils 

&#9632: Abrupt and catastrophic changes 

&#9632: Organic geochemistry




II. Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

&#9632: Geochemical cycles: atmospheres and oceans




III. Fluids in and on the Earth

&#9632: Analysis of drainage basins

&#9632: Mineral-water interface geochemistry




IV. Crustal Dynamics: Ocean and Continent

&#9632: Landform response to change

&#9632: Quantification of thresholds, response rates and feedback mechanisms for landforms 

&#9632: Mathematical and computer modeling of landform changes 

&#9632: Sedimentary basins 

&#9632: Sequence stratigraphy










Facilities, Equipment, Data Bases





&#9632: Exploit new tools and techniques (e.g., isotopes, trace compounds, DNA sequencing and hybridization, digitizing techniques)

&#9632: Exploit new dating techniques (e.g., radiometric methods, trends in isotope ratios, biostratigraphic correlation, chemical markers in stratigraphy)

&#9632: Acquire high-quality data bases and establish information systems

immediate past that is forging closer links between geologists and other earth scientists. The history of human evolution is beginning to unfold in sufficient detail to reveal the kind of environmental influences that affected human ancestors. All the challenges that have been identified here as intellectual frontiers have special possibilities for resolution when addressed in light of our understanding of the ongoing global changes during this most recent geological period.


The Research Framework (Table 3.1) summarizes the research opportunities identified in this chapter, with reference also to other disciplinary reports and recommendations. These topics, representing significant selection and thus prioritization from a large array of research projects, are described briefly in the following section. The relevant processes operate near the surface for the most part, although there is no sharp boundary between surficial geology and the deep-seated processes covered in Chapter 2. There are excellent prospects for generating better models of the earth system, both present and past, including global tectonic models, coupled ocean-atmosphere biogeochemical models of the fluid envelope, and paleoecological models of the biosphere. The fossil record of the biosphere provides information about evolution as well as evidence of environmental changes and migration of continents.

The relevant Research Areas for this chapter are interrelated, and many of the research topics relate to more than one area. The carbon cycle (Area II),

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