Andreas, as well as maintain the reference grids used by land surveyors. Probing the Earth’s past through a detailed reading of the geological record is furnishing information about the behavior of climate and ecological systems that will be crucial to a future in which human activities become ever more potent forces of global environmental change.

The linkage between basic and applied research is growing stronger because some of the toughest problems facing the United States and the world at large require a deep understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that govern terrestrial systems. These practical issues cannot be addressed successfully without a vigorous program of basic research across the full spectrum of Earth science. Moreover, they call for substantial enhancements in the methodologies for integrating observations from the various disciplines into system-level models with predictive capabilities. Given the improved technical means for acquiring vast new data sets and modeling complex dynamic systems, the opportunities for furthering these aspects of the Earth science agenda have never been better.

Role of the National Science Foundation

Four federal departments and three independent federal agencies have significant activities in Earth science ( Appendix A ). These organizations support a mixture of basic and applied research, including multidisciplinary studies of mission-oriented problems ranging from environmental remediation and climate change assessment to anticipating the behavior of active faults and volcanoes. The National Science Foundation (NSF) plays a crucial role in this milieu as the sole agency whose primary mission is basic research and education. Only the NSF, through its Earth Science Division (EAR), provides significant funding for investigator-driven, fundamental research in all of the core disciplines of Earth science. 1

The future of EAR is important because this NSF division now shoulders an increasing burden of the national effort in basic Earth science ( Figure 1.1 ). In terms of buying power, the annual expenditures of EAR have grown about a factor of two during the last 20 years, reaching $97 million in 1999 (see Appendix A for a breakdown). However, the past few years have seen a substantial decline in the support of Earth science by other federal

1  

EAR is part of NSF’s Geoscience Directorate, which also comprises the divisions of Atmospheric Science and Ocean Science. This report employs NSF terminology: Earth science is the subset of geoscience concerned with the study of the Earth’s solid surface, crust, mantle, and core. The disciplines of Earth science include geology, geophysics, geochemistry, geobiology, hydrology, and related fields.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement