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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences 3 Recommended Immediate Research Investments As discussed in Chapter 1 , the committee was asked to identify a small number of areas of environmental science (perhaps three or four) that are especially deserving as the focus of new research initiatives. Applying the criteria outlined in Chapter 1 , the committee judged four areas to have the highest priority for immediate research investment. These four areas represent actions that the NSF, preferably in cooperation with other relevant federal agencies, can begin to undertake immediately. All meet the criteria of scientific novelty and excitement, likelihood of a large practical payoff, feasibility, timeliness, and magnitude. As with the grand challenges, the committee did not attempt to set priorities among the four areas; rather, they are presented in the same order as the corresponding grand challenges in Chapter 2 : Biological Diversity and Ecosystem Functioning: an initiative to develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that generate, maintain, and diminish biological diversity and their effects on ecosystem functioning. Hydrologic Forecasting: an initiative to develop the capability for regional hydrologic forecasting, specifically including the ecological consequences of changing water regimes. Infectious Disease and the Environment: an initiative to develop a comprehensive ecological and evolutionary understanding of infectious and environmental diseases. Land-Use Dynamics: an initiative to develop a systematic, spatially explicit understanding of the changes in land use and land cover that are critical to ecosystem functioning, ecosystem services, and human welfare.
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences The following sections briefly describe these four recommended research investments and some of the key issues for each, including data needs, coordination with other environmental science research, and other key issues that must be addressed in undertaking the research. The key issues raised in this chapter are specific to or especially critical for particular research areas. Some additional issues apply to all the grand challenges and therefore arise with all four recommended research investments; these cross-cutting issues are discussed in Chapter 4 . The committee is enthusiastic about its recommendations for immediate action, but we recognize that the relative importance of scientific challenges and recommended actions in light of the above criteria will evolve over time. As new challenges emerge or significant progress is made in addressing existing ones, the priorities for action will require reevaluation. The same is likely to be true if a non-U.S, perspective is taken, since groups from other areas of the world might view the priorities differently. Therefore, we recommend that an evaluation similar to the present one be repeated at approximately 5-year intervals, perhaps in collaboration with international organizations. RECOMMENDED IMMEDIATE RESEARCH INVESTMENT 1: BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM FUNCTIONING Recommendation: Develop a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between ecosystem structure and functioning and biological diversity. This initiative would include experiments, obser vations, and theory, and should have two interrelated foci: (a) de veloping the scientific knowledge needed to enable the design and management of habitats that can support both human uses and native biota; and (b) developing a detailed understanding of the effects of habitat alteration and loss on biological diversity, espe cially those species and ecosystems whose disappearance would like ly do disproportionate harm to the ability of ecosystems to meet human needs or set in motion the extinction of many other species. This initiative is compelling because (a) understanding the relationship between species diversity and ecosystem functioning poses a great intellectual challenge, and would lead to both scientific and practical breakthroughs; (b) humans use a large proportion of the nonglaciated land surface of the Earth, as well as its marine resources, creating the likelihood that biotic reserves—even combined with environmental restoration—will not by themselves be sufficient to prevent the extinction of many species; (c) increasing human demand for ecosystem goods and services threatens to outpace ecosystems' capacity to sustain those supplies and to maintain natural diversity; (d) given recent advances in the science of biological diversity, we are poised to make breakthroughs in understanding how diversity has been generated and maintained in nature, as well as how
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences civilization can continue to sustain that diversity; and (e) current research in this area is inadequate, especially in the major foci recommended here. This initiative is drawn from the areas for research described in Chapter 2, but is focused more narrowly to emphasize those areas not currently receiving enough attention. It includes research into a broad range of ecosystems and habitats, from those managed exclusively for protection of native biota, to those providing ecosystem goods and services, to those designed to provide for human needs and preferences while simultaneously supporting biological diversity. Experiments designed to elucidate the relationship of ecosystem functioning to species diversity would build on the few such experiments conducted to date. Work on ecosystems that are as close to natural as possible would reveal how those ecosystems function, helping us clarify the principles that should be applied in designing new kinds of habitats that can serve both human needs and those of other species. Similar experimental research must be done on human-dominated ecosystems because they currently constitute a large proportion of what is available to manage. Information gained from systematic research into the environmental requirements of native species could then be combined with our new understanding of ecosystem functioning to offer a wide variety of novel opportunities for understanding and managing anthropogenic landscapes. The overall effort will require interdisciplinary research involving ecologists, ethologists, psychologists, engineers, economists, planners, landscape architects, and others. The work should interact with recommended immediate research investment 4 on land-use dynamics. Moreover, since a substantial proportion of human habitation occurs in or near freshwater ecosystems, the potential for this effort to be informed by and to inform the recommended immediate research investment on hydrologic forecasting is particularly promising. Strong potential synergies also exist with recommended immediate research investment 3 on infectious disease, which directly addresses interactions between humans and the ecosystems they influence. Data Needs The definition of data needs and the collection and synthesis of data will require close cooperation among physical, biological, and social scientists; engineers and planners; and the associated funding agencies. Coordination with Other Environmental Science Research Coordination of this research with other efforts in environmental science will help in understanding the controls on and means of protecting biological diversity. The following specific linkages are recommended:
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences Coordinate this research with work on hydrologic models of runoff and subsurface water, which reflect the way living things, including people, interact with the landscape (Grand Challenge 4). Incorporate effects of human resource management institutions on ecosystems (Grand Challenge 6). Incorporate the effects of changing patterns of land use and land cover on the potential for (and limitations of) habitat redesign (Grand Challenge 7). Incorporate the effects of climate variability in assessments of ecosystem functioning and in the design of habitats to buffer for disturbances and extreme events (Grand Challenge 3). Develop partnerships with urban Long-Term Ecological Research sites. RECOMMENDED IMMEDIATE RESEARCH INVESTMENT 2: HYDROLOGIC FORECASTING Recommendation: Establish the capacity for detailed, comprehensive hydrologic forecasting, including the ecological consequences of changing water regimes, in each of the primary U.S. climatologi cal and hydrologic regions. Important specific research areas include all those described under Grand Challenge 4. This initiative is compelling because (a) hydrologic systems (physical and biological) are widely recognized as extremely vulnerable; (b) seismic tomography, remote sensing, and geographic information systems provide dramatic new tools for acquiring hydrologic information; and (c) theoretical models are evolving to be capable of using the new information. Five distinct climatological and hydrologic regimes are generally recognized in the contiguous United States: semi-arid (western region), desert (southwestern region), midlatitude (central region), humid subtropical (southeastern region), and humid continental (northeastern region). Each environment has a unique combination of precipitation, evapotranspiration, topography, hydrologic response, and biotic community. For each of these regions, research is needed in the following areas (described in more detail in Chapter 2 ): Improve understanding of hydrologic and geomorphic responses to precipitation. Improve understanding of surface water generation and transport. Examine environmental stresses on aquatic ecosystems. Explain the relationships between landscape change and sediment fluxes. Improve understanding of subsurface transport. Map groundwater recharge and discharge vulnerability.
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences Data Needs Data needs for this research include the following: Global, high-resolution remote sensing measurements from satellites and aircraft Subsurface data collected through geophysical tomography techniques Hydrologic and ecological field observations and experiments that involve both remote-sensing data and ground-based measurements Data on human activities that affect hydrologic systems (e.g., water use, contaminant releases, land transformations) Coordination with Other Environmental Science Research Hydrologic forecasting would be greatly enhanced by incorporating analyses of human activities that affect hydrologic systems over the time scales covered by geohydrologic, geomorphological, and ecological models, such as changes in land use, water demand, and industrial and agricultural activities and practices. Thus, the practical value of these models could be greatly enhanced by linkages with research efforts on the following: Biological diversity and ecosystem functioning (Grand Challenge 2) Land-use dynamics (Grand Challenge 7) Use and dispersal of materials (Grand Challenge 8) Resource management institutions (Grand Challenge 6) Predictive models of climatic systems (Grand Challenge 3) Biogeochemical cycles that affect the entry of contaminants and nutrients into aquatic systems (Grand Challenge 1) Transport and modification of disease vectors and hosts by freshwater systems (Grand Challenge 5) Other Key Issues It will be essential to forge and maintain links between the scientists who collect hydrologic information and develop forecasts and the users of those forecasts. RECOMMENDED IMMEDIATE RESEARCH INVESTMENT 3: INFECTIOUS DISEASE AND THE ENVIRONMENT Recommendation: Develop a comprehensive ecological and evolutionary understanding of infectious diseases affecting human, plant, and animal health.
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences This initiative is compelling as an immediate research investment because (a) it would promote linkages among scientific disciplines that are needed to understand critical environmental phenomena; (b) the current structure of support for environmental science is unlikely to cover the needed research; and (c) the broad availability of analytic tools makes the time ripe for significant progress in this area. This initiative essentially involves developing a new interdisciplinary field. The focus of this field should be on the effects of physical, biological, chemical, climatic, and human processes as selective agents on pathogen virulence and host resistance; the impacts of environmental change on disease epidemiology and toxic organisms; methods of surveillance and monitoring; and the development of theoretical models of host-pathogen ecology, genetics, and evolution. Data Needs The data needs in this research area include the following: Enhanced surveillance of disease prevention and incidence in human and other target host populations Development of a molecular/genetic taxonomy of responsive organisms Sequencing of genomes of major pathogens Coordination with Other Environmental Science Research Coordination of this work with other efforts in environmental science should include the following specific linkages: Integrate this research initiative into existing programs by linking it to ecosystem-based research (e.g., studies of the Chesapeake Bay and some Long-Term Ecological Research sites). Expand large population-based prospective studies of disease (e.g., malaria and tuberculosis) to include information on environmental determinants of population health (such as airborne particles and gaseous copollutants, or pesticides and trace metals in food), thus achieving economies of scale and generating useful examples for the design of further research. Forge links to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, particularly research on climate change modeling. Integrate knowledge from research on other grand challenges: biological diversity and ecosystem functioning (Grand Challenge 2), land-use dynamics (Grand Challenge 7), climate variability and its effects on humans and natural systems (Grand Challenge 3), resource management institutions (Grand Challenge 6), and hydrologic forecasting (Grand Challenge 4).
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences Other Key Issues There are two additional key issues to be addressed for this research initiative: To develop this research investment, it is critical to overcome the artificial separation of environmental scientists from biomedical and public health scientists, which is reinforced by the traditional structures of disciplinary affiliations and federal agency missions. Overcoming this separation will involve supporting interdisciplinary training of young scientists, providing funding incentives to encourage collaborative research among scientists in the relevant fields, and increasing the coordination/interaction among the federal science agencies that support research in health and environmental sciences. RECOMMENDED IMMEDIATE RESEARCH INVESTMENT 4: LAND-USE DYNAMICS Recommendation: Develop a spatially explicit understanding of changes in land uses and land covers and their consequences. This initiative is compelling because (1) land use dominates many interactions between humans and the environment, and (2) the growth of knowledge in this area has been severely hampered by inadequate funding. A successful approach to this initiative will require the development of long-term, regional databases for land uses, land covers, and related social information. It will also require (and encourage) innovative applications of dynamic spatial simulation. Data Needs The following issues are associated with the data needs for this research initiative: Costs to researchers of data from satellite imagery need to be reduced. The acquisition of cloud-free observations with good temporal and spatial coverage must be improved. Ground data on land cover need to be collected systematically and accurately. Data attributes and formats must be standardized across regional data centers. Standardized social, political, and economic data are required to test new theory and create the necessary new generations of models. Collection of such
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences data at fine resolution will also facilitate comparative research and data sharing among research groups. Coordination with Other Environmental Science Research Understanding of patterns and trends in land-use change would benefit from coordination with research on the following: Climate variability and its effects on humans and ecosystems (Grand Challenge 3) Hydrologic forecasting (Grand Challenge 4) Biological diversity and ecosystems, especially research into human preferences for environmental conditions (Grand Challenge 2) Effects of institutions on natural resources (Grand Challenge 6) Other Key Issues Support is needed for critical international data collection and data harmonization. MOVING FORWARD Implementation of the above four recommended research investments should be facilitated by the recommendations of NSF's National Science Board (2000). The latter recommendations include an increase in funding for environmental research of $1 billion per year, phased in over the next 5 years; increased interdisciplinary research; increased support for long-term research; and implementation partnerships between NSF and other federal agencies. Those recommendations complement the ones offered in this report; thus implementation of the two sets of recommendations should be synergistic. Planning Workshops Although the committee has chosen four areas for immediate research investment, its membership did not encompass the expertise and lacked the resources needed to define the details of the individual research programs. Indeed, such definition is properly left to the federal agencies and scientific communities involved. To that end, the committee recommends that NSF, with other agencies as appropriate, convene workshops for each recommended immediate research investment to discuss and plan the research agenda, and that it consider convening similar workshops for each of the other important areas for research outlined under the grand challenges in Chapter 2 . Such workshops, which might need to be repeated, each would involve 25-30 participants, many with broad interdisci
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences plinary backgrounds and experience, and would include significant representation from both the natural and social sciences. The workshops should include research scientists in academia, the relevant agencies, and the private sector, as well as potential users of the research results. Involvement of potential users, including public officials, private and nonprofit organizations, and interested and affected members of the public, would help inform the scientific community about user needs so that attention could be directed toward producing useful results where scientific capabilities make this possible. (This issue is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4 .) The workshops should also include scientists whose primary interests lie in other grand challenge research areas that relate to the area under discussion (as indicated in the preceding sections). Their presence would facilitate research linkages across the grand challenges and help achieve economies in the overall research portfolio. For example, researchers might be able to suggest simple modifications in the data collection strategy for one area that would provide valuable information for those working in related areas. The workshops should produce reports to NSF, with other agencies as appropriate, that include the following components: A 5-year plan for the implementation of an initial detailed research program. Anticipated results in both basic research and information useful to society within a reasonable time period should be addressed. Consideration of the degree to which existing institutions in their present or modified form could play integral roles in the program. A program for training the necessary individuals in areas in which appropriate scientists are in short supply. A strategy for developing the necessary research integration across disciplines. Various approaches to this end should be considered, including training interdisciplinary scientists, encouraging environmental scientists to collaborate across disciplines, and strengthening interdisciplinary research communities. Discussion of the usefulness and importance of regional approaches and integrated laboratories for advancing the specific area of research and, if considered important, recommendations on the appropriate institutional form for such laboratories. A strategy for coordinating the program results with those of other grand challenge initiatives. A strategy for enhancing (and evaluating) the usefulness of the scientific information to be generated. An estimate of the financial and other support (e.g., data availability) needed to implement the 5-year plan.
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Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences Funding Requirements Until the reports from the workshops outlined above are available, it will not be possible to provide detailed estimates of the funding needed to implement the recommended immediate research investments. However, the committee judged it important to provide an estimate of the order of magnitude of support likely to be required to achieve progress on the various research investments. To this end, we estimated for each initiative how many researchers (university faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows) would be required to make substantial progress. We then considered major infrastructure needs (e.g., satellites, major laboratory facilities). The various initiatives have differing needs, and several of the major expenses apply to more than one initiative; therefore, the committee's estimates are only approximations. Given these caveats, the committee estimates that each of the recommended immediate research investments would require several hundred million dollars (at a minimum) over a 10-year period, for a total investment of perhaps $1-2 billion for the four initiatives combined. This investment of $100 or $200 million per year is well within the National Science Board's (2000) recommended budget increase for environmental sciences of $1 billion per year.
Representative terms from entire chapter: