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Solid-Earth Sciences and Society (1993)

Chapter: 7 Research Priorities and Recommendations

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Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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7
Research Priorities and Recommendations

Research in the solid-earth sciences is essential for the well-being of global society and for sustaining a high-quality of life in the United States.

INTRODUCTION

The solid-earth sciences offer a wealth of research opportunities. These include basic questions such as the origin of the Earth, abstract challenges such as the consequences for continental evolution of convection within the solid mantle, and provocative issues such as the disappearance of the dinosaurs or how life without sunlight is generated and sustained at submarine hydrothermal vents. Earth science research continues to solve socially relevant issues such as land-use planning and the prediction of earthquakes. And now, with the global perspective offered by earth system science and international collaboration, problems of vital concern to society's future—such as global change, contamination of water supplies, formation of mineral deposits, and prospects for future energy sources—demand contributions from earth scientists.

The survival and prosperity of humanity depend on knowledge about the earth processes that produce resources, hazards, and environments. The world's growing population needs more energy, more minerals, and more water resources and generates increasing concentrations of waste products that can pollute the air, water, and land. As more people settle in marginal regions they face increasing danger from geological hazards. Humanity will become an agent of its own destruction unless efforts to manage all of Earth's bounty as a nonrenewable resource prevail at every level. To do so will require scientific understanding of Earth's natural processes, particularly the linkages among the geospheres, the solid-earth, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere. The earth sciences—spurred by a combination of innovative concepts, powerful data-handling and modeling capabilities, refined field methods, and advanced laboratory techniques—are in an era of intellectual accomplishment that will provide this understanding.

Recognition of the interconnectivity of earth processes was initiated by the plate tectonics revolution. The ocean crust is composed of materials that emerge from the interior at spreading centers, is modified as it moves along the surface, and returns to the interior in subduction zones; the continents are built and modified by processes related to the same internal processes that modify the ocean crust. The system of interconnecting influences ranges from convection in the interior and the mechanism driving plates along the surface through the interchanges with the hydrosphere and biosphere that result in long-term atmospheric, oceanic, and climatic changes, to the effects of human activity on the geological cycles. Emerging perspectives permit a synthesis of earth science data on the global scale. Supercomputers provide breathtaking opportunities to sift enormous

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

quantities of global data and to simulate and explain earth processes by modeling experiments. New instruments are poised for development and use in monitoring the whole Earth from space, in deducing its inner structure and workings by seismology, and in exploring the composition of its smallest particles with high-resolution analytical probes.

Distinct intellectual paths wind through the structure of the solid-earth sciences, from theoretical research to the applications that flow from it. Boundaries between theoretical and applied earth sciences are artificial. Although theoretical research may be defined as speculative inquiry having no practical value, all engineering programs apply pure theory as an integral foundation for design and production. Research programs designed to improve the human condition—whether they are related to resource problems with water, energy, and minerals, to hazards presented by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and floods, or to environmental issues of global warming, desertification, and waste contamination—are crippled without basic research aimed at understanding earth processes.

The variety of research opportunities in the earth sciences can be categorized under priority themes. Deliberate consideration can then be given to how these themes might best be supported and developed during the next decade. This brings in the difficult issue of setting priorities among first-class research opportunities and pressing societal needs, within and across scientific fields. The way in which science priorities are established will surely be influenced by the 1991 report Federally Funded Research by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

This chapter begins with a discussion of the problems of establishing criteria for setting science priorities. Following a summary of research initiatives and recommendations made over the past decade, the goals and objectives of the solid-earth sciences, as viewed by the committee, are presented as the Research Framework used throughout this report. Selected groups of research opportunities from the wide research areas covered in Chapters 2 through 5 represent the first stage of prioritization. For each of the eight priority themes that arise from the Research Framework, a single top-priority research selection was chosen with a remarkable degree of consensus. These eight top-priority research selections are discussed along with their supporting research programs and infrastructure; in addition, two high-priority selections for each theme are presented. The last section reviews the facilities needed to implement these major programs, which leads to the research recommendations. Comments about present and future research funding are then followed by a set of general recommendations.

SETTING RESEARCH PRIORITIES

Funding scientific research and technology is an expensive enterprise. Growing numbers of individual scientists require increasing support, and the megaprojects of big scientific collaborations consume vast amounts of money. These sometimes conflicting pressures emphasize the need for development of a national science agenda. That agenda should implement a system for setting priorities within each discipline and among all the sciences.

Planning and Decision Making

In the earth sciences new research initiatives usually develop within subdisciplines and reflect the interests of individual scientists. Initiatives spawned by independent scientists or groups of scientists inevitably become involved with funding agencies at an early stage. Scientists commonly establish a consensus about research directions and priorities by active participation in national and international workshops and conferences, by communication with colleagues, and by interaction with representatives from funding agencies. Scientists with common goals form working groups that determine implementation strategies, facility requirements, and needs for technology developments. Advisory committees can provide evaluations and recommendations on the long-range objectives and priorities in their field as well as the specific needs for funding, manpower, instrumentation, and facilities.

Supporters of each new initiative make the case for their project's funding. They attempt to persuade funding agencies and government of the paramount importance of investment in what they have concluded is a key area of research. If the funding organizations are to receive the critical advice that they need to make sensible allocation decisions, it is essential that the subdisciplines remain active and responsible in developing a consensus about directions and priorities.

The selection of priority research opportunities within a subdiscipline is relatively easy compared with the next step of ranking programs, or selecting priorities, among several subdisciplines. There is an additional problem of rational evaluation when support of a particular subdiscipline is shared by more than one agency. Similar oversight evaluations and comparisons are required before the relative merits

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

of the science initiatives can be judged against other programs often competing for the same funds.

Until recently there was no body charged with the task of establishing priorities across and among different agencies supporting the earth sciences. However, when global change was recognized as an integral part of public policy during the 1980s, the Committee on Earth Sciences (CES) was appointed to focus disparate federally funded research on the global environment and organize it into the U.S. Global Change Research Program—a focused, agency-spanning effort to coordinate scientific understanding of global change. The success of the CES provided impetus for the reorganization and revitalization of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology (FCCSET), an interagency group charged with orchestrating federal research and development activities that cut across the missions of more than one federal agency. One of the seven new umbrella committees established to oversee broad areas of science and technology is the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences (CEES), successor to CES.

The CEES is a coordinating board composed of working groups and subcommittees dedicated to relevant research topics. It has demonstrated the utility of interagency activity coordination and of planned research program development on a national scale. A partnership has evolved not only among the government agencies but also with the scientific community. This orientation is shared particularly with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and increasingly with international organizations. The CEES, working with NAS, has developed a framework for planning and action, founded on five basic tenets, which include guidance by a set of priorities, evaluation criteria, and agreed-upon roles for the various government agencies and the CEES.

The agencies prepare project summaries providing specific information. At a series of initial meetings, dialogue between agency and CEES representatives provides the foundation for the CEES recommendations for the annual program. This is followed by the exchange of written material, interpersonal briefings and discussion, and a series of meetings between agency representatives and a working group chairman from CEES. These meetings lead to consensus. Interactive revisions of the initial proposal then end with a final agency-endorsed recommendation to the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Despite the complexity of this procedure, a similar protocol could work well to determine priorities within the whole of earth sciences, as it works for those aspects addressing questions about global change. A high-level committee, with the capability and authority to evaluate priorities within earth system science, would present its findings to the FCCSET, which could then promote earth system science to OMB as coherent national activities, rather than as a collection of agency programs.

''Are the resources available for the endeavor of solid-earth science commensurate with the challenges or the available talent? Are there too many of us for the resources? Are there too few resources for the many of us?"

Charles L. Drake (EOS, 1990)

Individual and Group Research

The committee concluded, in conformity with many other reports, that the first priority must be adequate support of the best proposals from individual investigators. The National Science Foundation's (NSF) merit review task force endorsed the principle that the individual grant for basic research is central to academic science and technological enterprise. This is also one of the three guiding principles espoused by the OMB in prioritization of agency requests. Despite these declarations of principle, individual investigators—as a group—feel threatened by inadequate support. The intellectual resources contributed by individual members of the earth science community are the most valuable asset that community can claim. Core support for individual investigators will ensure the diversity in ideas and approaches that characterizes scholarly activity in the United States.

But many problems in the earth sciences are sufficiently complex that progress can be achieved only through cooperative multidisciplinary studies. In these cases, large-scale facilities cultivate growth and success; access to expensive, innovative, and often centralized new instruments and facilities has been a key stimulus in many breakthroughs.

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

Clearly, not every earth science institute can have its own synchrotron, portable seismometer array, accelerator mass spectrometer, or ocean and continental drilling program. Funding bases and management practices have developed to implement these facilities and ensure their cross-disciplinary use in an efficient and effective manner. A large instrument or facility is of no use if there is no funding for the science it supports or if the technical staff and operating budget are inadequate.

Do large, cooperative, expensive research programs drain support from the small grants programs? There is no simple answer, because even meritorious large-scale projects remain unfunded or have been terminated because of insufficient funds. Either overall funding for science is inadequate or the education system has produced more research scientists than it can support. But how can there be too many scientists when some projections of current trends indicate serious shortages of Ph.D.-level scientists in the first decade of the next century?

Program science focuses on achieving specific objectives, such as resource assessment, space exploration, natural hazard reduction, or waste management. Although its emphasis is commonly on practical ends, some program science in recent years has involved the assembly of multidisciplinary research teams for projects in pure science. Examples are studies of the continental lithosphere by deep drilling, studies of structure by reflection seismology, and establishment of global seismic networks. Science of this sort presents significant challenges because current scientific knowledge is fully exploited while new fundamental science is being developed. As long as the large programs are based on scientific goals, projects by individual investigators can make valuable contributions.

Key sources of support for program science include government agencies and industry. The setting of priorities is done by these organizations or by Congress if the funding needed is very large. The importance of these large projects should be judged according to the same standards as nonprogram science efforts in order to maintain a responsibly consistent set of priorities for all scientific disciplines.

Peer Review and Evaluation

If scientists do not establish their own system of evaluation, priorities will be set for them by bureaucrats or politicians. These professionals are skilled at tailoring budgets that address conflicting needs, but they are seldom expert in science; initiation and survival of scientific projects could come to depend more on the political savvy of special-interest lobbies than on scientific merit. If political expediency were the goal, many adverse consequences could be anticipated, including a short-circuiting of the peer review process, the intellectual exchange that most scientists consider essential for maintaining the quality of research.

The committee concluded that credible evaluation should always involve some form of peer or merit review because it is effective for judging both the competence of an investigator and the merit and utility of a research project. Peer review should be the quality control point in ranking large or small proposals. Close scrutiny at this point will ensure that an excellent proposal in any area finds support and that a poor proposal—even in a very important area—is rejected. There should be no interference with or protection of programs, and reviewers should encourage innovation. At the same time, funding renewals should be reviewed as rigorously as initial proposals.

The essential criteria for peer review comprise competence of the investigators, excellence of the proposal, utility of the research, and effect on the infrastructure. The peer review system for judging merit is ideal for identification of high-quality research, but the system is overburdened: in an endless cycle of paperwork, federal funds stimulate a large academic research base, which is then required to submit proposals for review. This demands an enormous effort on the part of competent scientists who could otherwise be conducting their own research. Much time and exertion are wasted in the preparation and review of unsuccessful, unfunded proposals. In this situation, creativity and innovation are stifled because overloaded reviewers may tend to reject unfamiliar thinking.

A 1990 NSF report addressed this problem. Its recommendations suggested methods for streamlining the peer review system, but resource availability may restrict their adoption. An important factor in these reviews is recognition of the roles of both small and large projects because they complement each other. Advances are usually initiated by individuals, but fulfillment often requires large teams. Similarly, priorities are commonly realized within a particular discipline, with consequent major advances evolving from interdisciplinary activities.

Priorities change and must be updated; granting agencies must set their courses years in advance. Dramatic swings in emphasis can only lead to loss of credibility. It is essential that any evaluation process create the environment for, and be responsive to, new ideas and techniques despite the risk.

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

TABLE 7.1 Evaluation Criteria for Research Proposals

Scientific merit is assessed on the basis of:

■ Objectives and significance

■ Breadth of interest

■ Conformability to specified goals

■ Potential or actuality of new discoveries

■ Downstream benefits

■ Bottleneck breakers

■ Transfer values

■ Education of professionals

Societal benefits to be considered include:

■ Improvement of the human condition

■ Relevance for industry

■ National security and advantage

■ Opportunity for international cooperation

■ General education

The feasibility of a proposal includes programmatic or practical concerns such as:

■ Scientific logistics and infrastructure

■ Community commitment

■ International involvement

■ Timeliness

■ Probability of success

■ Costs: scientific and social

The return per dollar needs to be considered.

There should be a favorable ratio of benefits (societal + scientific + security) to cost.

Evaluation Criteria and Prioritization

Priority decisions should consider the three guiding principles applied by OMB in its assessment of funding requests from federal agencies:

  1. Support is required for certain programs that address national needs and national security concerns.

  2. Support for basic research must be adequate: small science receives high-priority in the agencies' final programs.

  3. Support for the scientific infrastructure and facilities must be maintained at adequate levels.

However, criteria for evaluation are the heart of the priority-setting process. Criteria for setting priorities and evaluating proposals are similar, although implementation may differ according to the scale of the initiative and the mandate of a sponsoring agency. The criteria that should be applied to research proposals through strict peer review include scientific merit, societal benefit, feasibility, and positive cost-benefit analysis. The lists of factors to be considered under each of these major criteria can become very long; a selection is displayed in Table 7.1.

Moving from lists to a workable selection presents many problems. An example from mineral resources illustrates the problems of prioritization. Selection of the most promising research opportunities in mineral resource research could greatly accelerate scientific progress and potentially save millions of dollars in research and exploration expenditures. Presumably the most promising opportunities are those with the greatest potential for dramatic advances in scientific understanding or for providing solutions to societal problems at the lowest costs and with the greatest potential for success. Higher priority might be awarded for a variety of reasons, for example, to support a historically productive investigator or line of research, to provide seed money for a risky but promising new line of research, to test a major scientific hypothesis, or to solve a significant societal problem.

However, perceptions of research priorities in mineral resources are apt to differ at different levels within an organization and between organizations. At the national level, preference might be given to strategic minerals that are in short supply in this country. The NSF might favor research made possible through the development of a new analytical method or a recent scientific discovery. An individual state might choose projects related to its particular resources. Government departments would select projects related to their missions. At a university, research emphasis will reflect the academic interests of faculty members. Similar diversity exists within various segments of industry and between industry, government, and academic institutions. Thus, the establishment of priorities within the field of mineral resources, as in any field, is dependent on the goals of the establisher. Those goals must be clearly thought out and communicated before priorities within and between disciplines can be assessed, much less ranked.

Once the goals have been established, it is necessary to design a procedure to apply the evaluation criteria to rank research proposals. One proposal is that the criteria be formulated into a standard set of questions and that the written answers produced are compared and judged; this formalizes the common procedure of open discussion. Others argue that this approach is too qualitative; they advocate a quantitative method of evaluation, using weighted criteria, making prioritization a structured, uniform process that can be defended. The problem is that the criteria (see, e.g., Table 7.1) probably do not have equal weight, and the weighting may well vary according to the mission of a funding agency. Such methods may be no more objective than those

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

that arrive at consensus through discussion because of the subjective nature of the selection of weighting factors.

The committee explored various methods of scoring criteria in an attempt to establish a numerical ranking of research topics. We found that a numerical system appears to offer some degree of success when similar proposals are compared but is not effective when tested for ranking priorities among disparate proposals.

PREVIOUS RECOMMENDATIONS AND INITIATIVES

The committee used a variety of materials in the preparation of this report. It established 22 panels that prepared topical working papers. In addition, there were several recent publications reviewing specific aspects of the solid-earth sciences (or issues involving the solid-earth) that had been prepared mainly, but not exclusively, by advisory panels or workshops under the aegis of the National Research Council (NRC). These publications were treated from the outset as the equivalent of additional panel reports, providing recommendations reached by consensus within a particular earth science community. Similar reports have been considered as they were published. Many of the committee members had participated in the preparation of these reports and long-range plans; their experience helped to put discussions and possibilities into a realistic perspective. The selection of priorities in this volume, therefore, reflects the conclusions of many previous committees that have dealt with the earth sciences.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of research planning during the past few years has been the growing parallel perception in different research communities that their interests are part of a global system. Consequently, there has been convergence among the research plans of groups concerned nominally with solid-earth, atmospheric, space, and ocean sciences. This convergence has focused on the driving processes within the solid-earth and on global change as manifested mainly in the atmosphere and oceans.

This historical development is illustrated in Table 7.2 by a sequence of selections of research topics, beginning with the 1983 report prepared by the NRC Board on Earth Sciences (now the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources) at the request of NSF. That report, Opportunities for Research in the Geological Sciences (ORGS), recommended the eight priorities shown in the upper left of the table.

Another 1983 report was a research briefing developed for the NRC Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and federal agencies. The five research areas listed (which were based on the ORGS recommendations) were identified as those most likely to return the highest scientific dividends as a result of incremental federal investment. Four of these areas already had operating programs or were organized promptly. The organizations were the (1) Consortium for Continental Reflection Profiling; (2) Deep Observation and Sampling of the Earth's Continental Crust; (3) Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS); and (4) various satellite programs, of which the Global Positioning System (GPS) in particular was relevant. The fifth area was organized later; a 1987 report on the NRC Workshop on Physics and Chemistry of Earth Materials identified three major research topics where significant advances could be expected from research on earth materials.

In 1988 the NRC Space Studies Board published Mission to Planet Earth , one of six volumes responding to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) request "to determine the principal scientific issues that the discipline and space science would face during the period from 19952015." The volume outlined a bold integrated program for determining the origin, evolution, and nature of our planet and its place in the solar system. The importance of combining the space-borne program with an earth-based program was emphasized. The research objectives were addressed by the four themes given in Table 7.2, which proposed to expand NASA's mission by treating the whole Earth as a solar system planet.

The long-range plan for the NSF Division of Earth Sciences, prepared by NSF's internal advisory committee in 1988, emphasized A Unified Theory of Planet Earth. The influence of the two previous reports, ORGS and COSEPUP, is evident from the selection of research priorities.

The 1990 Long-Range Plan of the Ocean Drilling Program represents a distillation of workshop and panel discussions through 4 years and the conclusions of two major international conferences. The plan is based on four high-priority research themes, with 16 objectives. These research themes extend much deeper into the Earth than was envisaged in the early phases of ocean drilling programs.

In 1989 NASA's Solid-Earth Science Branch was formed by joining two previously autonomous NASA programs on geology and geodynamics. This union reflected a recognition of the need to

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

TABLE 7.2 Priority Development: Previous Research Recommendations and Initiatives

1983: ORGS

1983: COSEPUP

1987: PACEM

Continental lithosphere

Seismic studies, continental crust

Mantle convection

Sedimentary basin evolution

Continental scientific drilling

Material transport through fluid flow

Magmas

Physics/chemistry of geological materials

Evolution of continents

Physical and chemical properties of rocks

Global digital seismic array

 

Tectonic processes

Satellite geodesy

 

Convection of Earth's interior

 

 

Evolution of life

 

 

Surficial processes

 

 

1988: Mission to Planet Earth

 

 

1. Composition, structure, dynamics, and evolution of the interior and crust.

2. Structure, dynamics, and chemistry of the oceans, atmosphere, and cryosphere and their interactions with the solid-earth (including the global hydrological cycle, weather, and climate).

3. Characterizing the interactions of living organisms among themselves and with the physical environment (including their effects on the evolution of the environment).

4. Monitoring and understanding the interaction of human activities with the natural environment.

1988: NSF

1990: ODP

1991: NASA

Continental lithosphere

Crust and upper mantle

Global geophysical networks

Physics and chemistry of earth materials

Physical behavior of the lithosphere

Soils and surface mapping

Global change: geological reconstruction

Fluid circulation in the lithosphere

Global topographic mapping

Fluid mechanics in earth sciences

Oceanic and climatic variability

Geopotential fields

Global positioning system (active tectonics)

 

Volcanism and limate

Studies in the Earth's deep interior

 

 

ORGS: Opportunities for Research in the Geological Sciences (NRC, 1983).

COSEPUP: Research Briefings 1983 (NRC, 1983).

PACEM: Earth Material Research: Report of a Workshop on Physics and Chemistry of Earth Materials (NRC, 1987).

Mission to Planet Earth (NRC, 1988).

NSF: Long-Range Plan, NSF Division of Earth Sciences, Advisory Committee, 1988.

ODP: Long-Range Plan for the Ocean Drilling Program, NSF, 1990.

NASA: Solid-Earth Sciences in the 1990s, NASA Technical Memorandum 4256 (three volumes).

understand the Earth as a whole, comprised of interacting systems. NASA sponsored an international workshop in 1989 that developed a 10-year plan of research to integrate the two programs into one. The report, published in 1991, identified the five areas shown in Table 7.2 as deserving major emphasis in the solid-earth sciences for the 1990s.

Many other reports were taken into consideration by the committee for this volume, but those mentioned above suffice to illustrate the parallelism developing in research programs specified by organizations as different as NSF, NASA, and the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). This is due in large part to recognition of the earth system as one that is interconnected on all scales and the fact that the wide disparity of time and space scales represented by geophysics, geochemistry, geology, fluid dynamics, and biological processes can be addressed for the first time by global data sets and modeling on high-speed computers. For example, it has become clear that ODP's existence is important for other earth science initiatives that deal with global processes and interactions to achieve their goals.

ODP also will play a role in the RIDGE (Ridge InterDisciplinary Global Experiments) initiative, which developed from several workshops, initially under the guidance of the NRC Ocean Studies Board. It illustrates the trend toward multiagency support; the planning effort is now supported by NSF, the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The rift valleys that are central to the RIDGE initiative are responsible for the formation of continental margins, where 70 percent of the world's population is concentrated. MARGINS is another interdisciplinary research initiative developed from an NRC workshop jointly organized by the Ocean Studies Board and the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources. Only recently has the patchwork of diverse studies of different disciplines become interpretable in terms of comprehensive models. The workshop group concluded that a significant change in direction from current research was required, with a shift away from phenomenological descriptions to an approach focusing on process-oriented studies and modeling fundamental physical pro-

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

cesses. This new direction requires interdisciplinary organization and funding structures.

The trend in the initiatives outlined above has been to emphasize processes, recognizing the need for attention to the properties of earth materials. Continental drilling, like ocean drilling, is a technique. The ODP is now emphasizing the determination of processes through the technique of drilling. A similar philosophy is expressed in the 1988 report The Role of Continental Scientific Drilling in Modern Earth Sciences: Scientific Rationale and Plan for the 1990s (Interagency Coordinating Group for Continental Scientific Drilling, 1988), based on an international conference and workshop. The report presents a comprehensive plan for a program that "should be the mechanism by which scientific drilling activities of the Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey, and National Science Foundation and other agencies are coordinated and focused on critical problems of national interest . . . directed at fundamental research and closely integrated with other geological and geophysical studies to address outstanding problems in the earth sciences."

The U.S. Global Change Research Program has become a central focus because it involves important and urgent political and economic issues, which require the best of scientific attention. The International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) was addressed by a 1988 NRC report, Toward an Understanding of Global Change, which identified early U.S. contributions. Also in 1988, Earth System Science: A Program for Global Change, was prepared by the NASA Advisory Council, with the anticipation that the program recommended would become a part of the planning for the Global Change Research Program. This involves "the initiation of a new era of integrated global observations of the Earth" and "the development of new management policies and mechanisms to foster coordination among NASA, NOAA, NSF, and other federal agencies engaged in earth system science and the study of global change." The organization and operation of the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences, outlined earlier, illustrate the new generation of management mechanisms.

GOALS, RESEARCH AREAS, OBJECTIVES, AND RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES

The starting point for evaluation of solid-earth science programs must be to define the goals. Recent research and discoveries in the earth sciences have brought us to the stage where we should consider the Earth as a set of interrelated systems. The theory of plate tectonics gave new emphasis to the unifying concept of planet Earth as an integrated system, with every part functioning to some degree separately but being ultimately dependent on all others. New data on the Earth's interior reinforce the notion of an internal engine driving geological processes. The dynamic Earth behaves like a thermodynamic engine that generates stresses and flows in solid and fluid materials and causes differential transfer of matter in geochemical cycles. The crustal topography is shaped by internal movement, and the near-surface chemistry involves interaction between the oceans, the atmosphere, and fluids from the crust and mantle. The detailed architecture of the surface is carved by the action of fluids driven by energy from the external heat engine—the Sun—with the aid of gravity and tidal forces. Exchange of material deep within the interior is brought about by plate subduction, slow thermal convection of the mantle, and hot-spot volcanism. The distribution of water, economically valuable minerals, and energy resources is determined by these various processes. The multidisciplinary research areas described in this report reflect this new awareness of interconnectivity.

The committee agreed that the GOAL of the solid-earth sciences is

to understand and to predict the behavior of the whole earth system, from interaction between the crust and its fluid envelopes of atmosphere and hydrosphere through the mantle and the outer core to the inner core. A major challenge is to understand how to maintain an environment between the solid and fluid geospheres in which the biosphere and humankind can flourish.

Reaching this goal will require an understanding of:

  • the origin and evolution of the core, mantle, and crust and

  • the interactions and linkages between the solid-earth, its fluid envelopes, and the biosphere.

Such a comprehensive understanding will provide a basis for meeting the significant challenges to society and to earth scientists:

  • to provide sufficient resources—water, minerals, and fuels;

  • to cope with the hazards—earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, and floods;

  • to avoid perturbing the geological cycles—soil erosion, water contamination, and improper mining and waste disposal; and

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×
  • to learn how to anticipate and adjust to environmental and global change.

Major research opportunities arise from the new, global, highly interconnected view of the whole earth system: earth system science.

The committee decided to structure its priorities on the basis of four broad objectives and the major research areas that support them. This framework or matrix of objectives and research areas served as the basis for our consideration of priorities in the solid-earth sciences.

The following four OBJECTIVES are derived from the challenges facing society in which fundamental understanding of the solid-earth sciences plays a primary role:

  1. Understand the processes involved in the global earth system, with particular attention to the linkages and interactions between its parts (the geospheres).

  2. Sustain a sufficient supply of natural resources.

  3. Mitigate geological hazards.

  4. Minimize and adjust to the effects of global and environmental change.

The committee selected the following five RESEARCH AREAS that will provide the understanding needed to address the above objectives:

  1. Global paleoenvironments and biological evolution.

  2. Global geochemical and biogeochemical cycles.

  3. Fluids in and on the Earth.

  4. Dynamics of the crust (oceanic and continental).

  5. Dynamics of the core and mantle.

These research areas all relate to the dynamic behavior of the earth system, but they emphasize different time scales, processes, and environments, and they progress from the surface downward into the core.

These societal challenges, objectives, and research areas were selected to provide comprehensive coverage of the whole earth system. They reflect the committee's best evaluation of where the research frontiers are, and they represent a solid foundation for making predictions about areas of research that are likely to succeed (see Table 7.3). In matrix form they constitute the RESEARCH FRAMEWORK, which has been used to categorize the research opportunities throughout this volume.

These objectives and research areas also represent a stage in prioritization based on the broad trends of community consensus, illustrated by the series of published initiatives and plans discussed above and reinforced by the committee's discussions and draft materials prepared by the committee's panels. These PRIORITY THEMES have the greatest promise for achieving the goals and objectives of the solid-earth sciences. They represent the first-priority scientific issues for understanding the Earth, for discovering and managing its resources, and for maintaining its habitability. (Note that Objective A—understanding the processes—is not a priority theme; it is inherent in all of the research areas and is basic to the other three objectives.)

Each priority theme embraces a very wide range of research, as outlined in the earlier chapters. In the first stage of priority selection, subsets of RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES (representing significant selection and thus prioritization) from a large array of research projects were listed in research frameworks at the ends of Chapters 2 through 5. (Chapter 6 considers the requirements of education, manpower, international collaboration, and the infrastructure of facilities and equipment required to support and maintain those opportunities.) These research opportunities include frontier areas:

  • where exploration of the unknown is still under way,

  • where different processes converge or overlap,

  • where data gathering is needed,

  • where different disciplines overlap, and

  • where conditions are ripe for computer modeling.

They are compiled here into a single table, Table 7.4.

PRIORITY THEMES AND RESEARCH SELECTIONS

Selection of Top- and High-Priority Research

The question of how to prioritize the research opportunities received much attention by the committee, and it was concluded that simply producing

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

TABLE 7.3 Aims of Priority Themes

 

Research Areas

I.

Global Paleoenvironments and Biological Evolution

 

To develop a record of how the Earth, its atmosphere, and its hydrosphere as well as life have evolved, so as to yield understanding of how its surface environment and the biosphere have changed on all time scales from the shortest to the longest. Such a record provides perspective for understanding continuing environmental change and for facilitating resource exploration.

II.

Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

 

To determine how and when materials have moved among the geospheres crossing the interfaces between mantle and crust, continent and ocean floor, solid-earth and hydrosphere, and hydrosphere and atmosphere. Interaction between the whole solid-earth system and its fluid envelopes represents a further challenge. Cycling through the biosphere and understanding how that process has changed in time is of special interest.

III.

Fluids in and on the Earth

 

To understand how fluids move within the Earth and its surface. The fluids include magmas rising from great depths to volcanic eruptions and solutions and gases distributed mainly through the crust but also in the mantle.

IV.

Crustal Dynamics: Ocean and Continent

 

To understand the origin and evolution of the Earth's crust and uppermost mantle. The ocean basins, island arcs, continents, and mountain belts are built and modified by physical deformations and mass transfer processes. The tectonic products of the deformations constitute the locales for resources introduced by chemical transportation. The shapes of landform surfaces are sculpted mainly by fluids.

V.

Core and Mantle Dynamics

 

To provide the basic geophysical, geochemical, and geological understanding as to how the internal engine of our planet operates on the grandest scale and to use such data to improve the conditions on Earth by predicting and developing theories for global earth systems.

 

Objectives

A.

To Understand the Processes in All Research Areas

 

To understand the origin and evolution of the Earth's crust, mantle, and core and to comprehend the linkages between the solid-earth and its fluid envelopes and the solid-earth and the biosphere. We need to maintain an environment in which the biosphere and humankind can flourish without risk of mutual or shared destruction.

B.

To Sustain Sufficient Supply of Natural Resources

 

To develop dynamic, physical, and chemical methods of determining the locations and extent of nonrenewable resources and of exploiting those resources using environmentally responsible techniques. The question of sustainability, the carrying capacity of the Earth, becomes more significant as the resource requirements grow.

C.

To Mitigate Geological Hazards

 

To determine the nature of geological hazards, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, soil erosion, floods, and materials (asbestos) and to reduce, control, and mitigate the effect of these hazardous phenomena. It is important to consider risk assessment and levels of acceptable risk.

D.

To Minimize and Adjust to the Effects of Global and Environmental Change

 

To mitigate and remediate the adverse effects produced by global changes of environment and changes resulting from modification of the environment by human beings. These latter changes may necessitate changes in human behavior. In order to predict continued environmental changes and their effects on the Earth's biosphere, we need the historical perspective given by reconstructed past changes.

a ranked list of programs or facilities would be meaningless. The needs of different sections of the community, the various federal agencies, private corporations, and state and local governments (not to mention global and international bodies) are diverse. Priorities have already been established by government agencies, industry establishes its own priorities, and strategies in petroleum and mineral resources are driven by international economic and political factors. A critical evaluation leading to prioritization is more readily accomplished given a specific list of projects and a budget. Lacking such constraints, the committee employed the matrix of priority themes as the basis for an agenda in the solid-earth sciences, an outline of how priorities might be determined through the next decade, depending on the availability of funds.

The committee recognized that, in a field as wide as earth system science, research needs to advance on a broad front. The research opportunities summarized in Table 7.4 all merit strong support. However, their number was clearly still too large to be considered a suitable response to the charge "to establish research priorities." The problem was to generate a selected list, and the approach adopted was to identify a single top-priority item for each of the eight priority themes that have framed this report. Candidates for the top-priority selections were solicited from individual members of the committee and then debated by the committee. A

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

"Try forecasting the future of physics . . . . I looked into the previous survey to see how well it had done in my pet field of atomic physics. The performance was unimpressive. Apparently nobody noticed that the laser was about to revolutionize atomic physics. . . . [T]he lesson is that scientific discoveries invariably exceed the power of our imaginations. "

Daniel Kleppner (Physics Today, December 1991)

high degree of consensus was attained in making the selection, which can be attributed at least in part to the earlier effort spent in defining where the main issues and outstanding problems lie at this time. (Other groups from the diverse field of earth sciences might have made a different selection, but this selection is thought to provide as firm a basis for planning the future as any other that might be proposed.) Two high-priority research subjects were also selected for each priority theme (in one priority theme there were three); in most cases they could compete strongly for the top position (see Table 7.5). There are of course supporting and supplementary research programs associated with each of the priority selections.

Because the Earth consists of numerous complex interactive systems, it is not surprising that the research programs, facilities, equipment, and data bases related to the priority themes overlap to a considerable extent. Indeed, one possible criterion for emphasis on a particular research activity is that it relates to more then one research theme or objective. For example, seismic networks are very important for understanding (Objective A) crustal dynamics (Research Area IV) and the mantle and core (Area V), as well as for hazard reduction (Objective C). Major programs such as the national, international, and state seismic networks can thus be seen as important for science and society for several reasons. They serve two objectives and two themes, although information from them alone will not provide a complete answer to any specific research priority. Similarly, the geological history of the past 2.5-million-years is important for understanding (Objective A) interaction between the Earth and its fluid envelopes (Area III), environmental and biological changes (Area I), and global geochemical cycles (Area II). These understandings are critical to assessing future global change (Objective D) and contribute substantially to sustaining water and soil resources (Objective B) and somewhat to hazard mitigation (Objective C).

Major programs such as national, international, and state seismic networks can thus be seen as important for science and society for several reasons. This applies to such programs as ocean drilling, which contributes to the understanding of all five research areas (Objective A) as well as to global change assessment (Objective D). Similarly, The Role of Continental Scientific Drilling in Modern Earth Sciences (Interagency Coordinating Group for Continental Scientific Drilling, 1988) specified applications addressing problems related to many different priority themes:

  • Earthquakes and crustal deformation (III, IV, V, C)

  • Volcanic and magmatic processes (II, III, IV, V, B, C, D)

  • Evolution of continental lithosphere (I, II, IV, B)

  • Basin evolution and hydrocarbon resources (I, II, III, IV, B)

  • Mineral resources (B)

  • Thermal regimes and geothermal energy (II, III, IV, V, B)

  • Calibration of crustal geophysics (III, IV)

  • Role of fluids in crustal processes (II, III, IV, B, C)

  • Lithospheric dynamics (III, IV, V, C)

  • Disposal of radioactive and toxic wastes (D)

  • Subterranean bacteria (B, D)

Finally, the prominence of fluids in research priorities related to the solid-earth is striking. Within research areas I through V, III is concerned directly with fluid-rock interactions, I includes paleoceanography and paleoclimatology, the processes in II are accomplished dominantly through fluids, and in IV fluids influence the strength of the crust and shape its surface in landforms. Among the societal objectives, water quality is the top-priority for Area B, and microbiology in a hydrous environment is the top-priority for Area D. The surface and outer few kilometers are in intimate contact with the hydrosphere, and water is a most reactive phase.

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

TABLE 7.4 Research Opportunities

 

Objectives

 

Research Areas

A. Understand Processes

B. Sustain Sufficient Resources Water, Minerals, Fuels

I. Global Paleoenvironments and Biological Evolution

■ Soil development and contamination

■ Glacier ice and its inclusions

■ Quaternary record

■ Recent global changes

■ Paleogeography and paleoclimatology

■ Paleoceanography

■ Forcing factors in environmental change

■ History of life

■ Discovery and curation of fossils

■ Abrupt and catastrophic changes

■ Organic geochemistry

■ Mineral deposits through time

II. Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

■ Geochemical cycles: atmospheres and oceans

■ Evolution of crust from mantle

■ Fluxes along ocean spreading centers and continental rift systems

■ Fluxes at convergent plate margins

■ Mathematical modeling in geochemistry

■ Organic geochemistry and the origin of petroleum

■ Microbiology and soils

III. Fluids in and on the Earth

■ Analysis of drainage basins

■ Mineral-water interface geochemistry

■ Pore fluids and active tectonics

■ Magma generation and migration

■ Kinetics of water-rock interaction

■ Analysis of drainage basins

■ Water quality and contamination

■ Modeling water flow

■ Source-transport-accumulation models

■ Numerical modeling of the depositional environment

■ In situ mineral resource extraction

■ Crustal fluids

IV. Crustal Dynamics: Ocean and Continent

■ Landform response to change

■ Quantification of feedback mechanisms for landforms

■ Mathematical modeling of landform changes

■ Sequence stratigraphy

■ Oceanic lithosphere generation and accretion

■ Continental rift valleys

■ Sedimentary basins and continental margins

■ Continental-scale modeling

■ Metasomatism and metamorphism of lithosphere

■ State of the crust: thermal, strain, stress

■ Convergent plate boundary lithosphere

■ History of mountain ranges: depth-temperature-time

■ Quantitative understanding of earthquake rupture

■ Rates of recent geological processes

■ Real-time plate movements and near-surface deformations

■ Geological prediction

■ Modern geological maps

■ Sedimentary basin analysis

■ Surface and soil isotopic ages

■ Prediction of mineral resource occurrences

■ Concealed ore bodies

■ Intermediate-scale search for ore bodies

■ Exploration for new petroleum reserves

■ Advanced production and recovery methods

■ Coal availability and accessibility

■ Coal petrology and quality

■ Concealed geothermal fields

V. Core and Mantle Dynamics

■ Origin of the magnetic field

■ Core-mantle boundary

■ Imaging the Earth's interior

■ Experiments at high pressures and temperatures

■ Chemical geodynamics

■ Geodynamic modeling

 

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

 

Objectives

Research Areas

C. Mitigate Geological Hazards Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Landslides

D. Minimize Global and Environmental Change Assess, Mitigate, Remediate

I. Global Paleoenvironments and Biological Evolution

 

■ Environmental impact of mining coal

■ Past global change

■ Catastrophic changes in the past

■ Solid-earth processes in global change

■ Global data base of present-day measurements

■ Volcanic emissions and climate modification

II. Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

■ Seismic safety of reservoirs

■ Precursory phenomena and volcanic eruptions

■ Volume-changing soils

■ Earth-science/materials/medical research

■ Biological control of organic chemical reactions

■ Geochemistry of waste management

III. Fluids in and on the Earth

 

■ Isolation of radioactive waste

■ Groundwater protection

■ Waste disposal

■ In situ cleanup of hazardous waste

■ New mining technologies

■ Waste disposal from mining operations

■ Disposal of spent reactor material

IV. Crustal Dynamics: Ocean and Continent

■ Earthquake prediction

■ Paleoseismology

■ Geological mapping of volcanoes

■ Remote sensing of volcanoes

■ Quaternary tectonics

■ Densifying soil materials

■ Landslide susceptibility maps

■ Preventing landslides

■ Dating techniques

■ Real-time geology

■ Systems approach to geomorphology

■ Extreme events modifying the landscape

■ Geographic information systems

■ Land use and reuse

■ Hazard-interaction problems

■ Detection of neotectonic features

■ Bearing capacity of weathered rocks

■ Urban planning: underground space

■ Geophysical subsurface exploration

■ Detection of underground voids

 

V. Core and Mantle Dynamics

 

 

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

TABLE 7.5 Priority Themes and Research Selections

Top-Priorities

High-Priorities

I. Global Paleoenvironments and Biological Evolution

 

The Past 2.5-Million-Years

A coordinated thrust at understanding how the Earth's environment and biology have changed since the onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation about 2.5-million-years ago. Numerous current federal agency research activities can be brought to bear on this issue. National and international involvement is appropriate.

■ Environmental and biological changes over the past 150-million-years since the oldest preserved oceans began to evolve

■ Environmental and biological changes prior to 150-million-years ago

II. Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

 

Biogeochemistry and Rock Cycles Through Time

Establishing how global geochemical cycles have operated through time is now a realistic target. This information is an essential element in working out how the earth system operates, and the research can help coordinate a number of federal activities. National and international activities are strong.

■ Construct models of the interaction between biogeochemical cycles and the solid-earth and climatic cycles

■ Establish how geochemical cycles operate in the modern world

III. Fluids in and on the Earth

 

Fluid Pressure and Fluid Composition in the Crust

Understanding the three-dimensional distribution of fluid pressure and fluid composition in the crust can be appropriately taken up at this time. Instrumental, observational, and modeling capabilities within a number of federal programs can be effectively focused on this problem. National and international involvement is important.

■ Modeling fluid flow in sedimentary basins

■ Understanding microbial influences on fluid chemistry, particularly groundwater

IV. Crustal Dynamics: Ocean and Continent

 

Active Crustal Deformation

Understanding active crustal deformation is vital to solid-earth science. There is an opportunity to revolutionize current understanding by coordinated effort. This priority theme is of importance to the missions of several federal agencies as well as state and international bodies.

■ Landform responses to climatic, tectonic, and hydrologic events

■ Understanding crustal evolution

V. Core and Mantle Dynamics

 

Mantle Convection

An integrated attack aimed at understanding mantle convection is timely. Observational, analytical, and modeling techniques are available that can be brought to bear on the issue. Several federal agencies and national and international organizations are involved.

■ Establish the origin and temporal variation of the Earth's internally generated magnetic field

■ Determine the nature of the core-mantle boundary

B. To Sustain Sufficient Natural Resources

 

Improve the Monitoring and Assessment of the Nation's Water Quantity and Quality Establishment of a dense network of water quality and quantity measurements to manage water resources and to promote scientific advances. This task requires coordination among federal and state agencies with existing programs in the general field.

■ Sedimentary basin research, particularly for improved resource recovery

■ Improvement of thermodynamic and kinetic understanding of water-rock interaction and mineral-water interface geochemistry

■ Development of energy and mineral exploration, production, and assessment strategies

C. To Mitigate Geological Hazards

 

Define and Characterize Regions of Seismic Hazard

Because many people and much property in the United States are at risk from the hazard of earthquakes, it is timely to address the problem of seismic hazard. This issue is of recognized importance to the missions of several federal agencies as well as to state, local, and international organizations.

■ Define and characterize areas of landslide hazard

■ Define and characterize potential volcanic hazards

D. To Minimize and Adjust to the Effects of Global and Environmental Change

 

Develop the Ability to Remediate Polluted Groundwaters, Emphasizing Microbial Methods

A coordinated attack on establishing the ability to remediate polluted groundwaters on both local and regional scales. Numerous current research activities in federal, state, and local agencies and private industry can be brought to bear on this issue. National and international involvement is appropriate.

■ Secure the isolation of toxic and radioactive waste from household, industrial, nuclear plant, mining, milling, and in situ leaching sources

■ Geochemistry and human health

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

The selection of a single top-priority research area for each priority theme is in one sense the end of the process of prioritization, but in another sense it is the beginning of the actual implementation of research programs. Progress in each top-priority selection cannot be entirely achieved without making progress in other areas, within the same and other priority themes. The whole system is interconnected. And while the need for funding agencies to have a set of priorities to guide their programs is clear, the danger of becoming bound by such priorities is even clearer. Breakthroughs in science are not predictable, and the priority themes and priority research selections do not pretend to cover all areas where breakthroughs might occur. Many other research areas have high potential for new opportunities and novel developments; committee members know that influential discoveries could emerge from studies that include the following:

  • microbiology and fossil DNA,

  • bacteria on mineral surfaces and in solutions,

  • quantum mechanics,

  • solar physics and its variations,

  • materials science,

  • computer science, and

  • laser technology.

Advances in instrumentation can result in dramatic progress. Earth system scientists must be aware of research in these areas as well as areas more specific to their particular subdisciplines. They will need intellectual flexibility and acute sensitivity to the frontiers of understanding to properly assess developments in rapidly evolving scientific and technological fields.

Studies of past interactions between life on Earth and climates, oceans, and changing continental configurations will assist in understanding organic evolution, discovering resources, and predicting and dealing with future environmental changes.

Priority Theme I: Global Paleoenvironments and Biological Evolution

The aim of this priority theme is to develop a record of the Earth, its atmosphere and hydrosphere, and the development of life. Such a record can provide a perspective for understanding continuing environmental change and its effect on the Earth's biosphere and for facilitating resource exploration.

This priority theme is the subject of Chapter 3. It is from the sedimentary rock record that most of our knowledge of earth history is derived. New ways of dating rocks, fossils, and surface features are opening diverse avenues of research. In addition, the deep ocean record is revealing a distinctive and hitherto poorly understood aspect of earth history. This record is a window on the evolution of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system.

On the land, new methods for studying rates at which earth-surface processes occur are expanding our ability to understand how landforms and surficial deposits, including soils, have evolved in the recent past and how they can be expected to change, with or without human influence, in the near future.

Knowledge of the relative positions of the larger parts of the present continents for the past 500-million-years provides a framework for the study of paleogeography, paleobiology, paleoclimatology, and paleoceanography. In part because of the emergence of this revolutionary new framework, these fields have been rejuvenated and are essentially new disciplines.

Given the current societal concern about the greenhouse effect, the study of the geological history of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the carbon cycle is of special significance. Also to be answered is whether the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere has fluctuated substantially during the past billion years.

In the course of earth history, changes in sea level have dramatically altered terrestrial environments, oceanographic patterns, and atmospheric chemistry. Many of the long-term changes can be attributed to plate tectonic processes. Some more rapid changes reflect fluctuations in the volume of glaciers, but others remain to be explained. It has recently become evident that Earth's orbital geometry influences climates, glaciers, sea level, and sediment accumulation, but the details remain poorly understood. Of greatest immediate concern is whether global warming will melt glacial ice and flood major cities.

Strata and the fossils that they entomb provide a unique record of life and habitats for more than 3-billion-years of earth history. New methods for

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

assessing rates and patterns of evolution and extinction are enlivening interpretations of this record. A new context for this work has emerged with the expansion of research on large-scale changes in ancient oceans, atmospheres, and continental configurations. Models of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system are being tested against geological data and related to the history of life. Studies of ice cores, pollen, and marine plankton are yielding detailed pictures of environmental and biotic changes during the past several thousand years—changes that can serve as models for understanding events of the future.

Global extinctions are of great current interest. A variety of evidence has convinced many geologists that the impact of one or more meteorites or comets caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but other great extinctions have been attributed to climatic changes driven by plate tectonics. The search for evidence of large impacts continues, and the potential role of massive volcanism is also under investigation.

Top-Priority, Theme I: The Past 2.5 Million Years

Environmental and biological changes since the onset of the Northern Hemisphere glaciation.

The most recent past has been chosen as a top-priority for half a dozen reasons. First, the onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation during this period represents the most radical environmental change on Earth within the past several tens of millions of years. Second, its closeness to the present means that the record is generally more complete. Methods of study not applicable to older times can be used, such as dating techniques using 14C and other cosmogenic nuclides. Third, surface features such as soils and landscapes, including mountains and river systems, have largely developed or have been strongly modified within this geologically short interval. Fourth, the relatively complete understanding that is attainable makes this interval of peculiar importance as an analog of older, less readily or completely analyzable parts of the geological record. Fifth, as inhabitants of a rapidly changing environment, the human race will find it is useful to have a full appreciation of what has happened in the geologically recent past. Students of global change have emphasized the importance of the record of progressively more recent times. And, finally, the fossil record for this interval includes many living species—for example, humans—and many extinct species with close living relatives.

Other High Priorities

For Theme I Table 7.6 lists two additional high-priority programs, effectively recommending the pursuit of similar research back through time: first, during the relatively recent interval over the past 150-million-years, and then during the long interval before that back to 3.8-billion-years. The background for these investigations is outlined briefly in Table 7.4 and discussed at length in Chapter 3. Important programs already support these three priorities, which aim at integrating understanding but approach the problems in diverse ways. One simple way of dividing activities is their environment: the land surface, shallow subsurface, river system, frozen ground, glacial, lacustrine, and marine environments. These are all the focus of dedicated programs in a variety of agencies, federal and local.

Programs and Infrastructure

Preeminent among single programs relevant to understanding the environment and biological change on the 2.5-million-year time scale is the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). Although the program operates only in the two-thirds of the Earth occupied by the oceans and their margins, no other single program can rival it in comprehensive scope. Its results embody an unrivaled record of the evolution of the atmosphere-ocean system and of ocean biology and biogeochemistry, and for this reason it is accorded the highest priority. In 1992 the NRC's Board on Earth Sciences and Resources and the Ocean Studies Board reviewed the ODP program and its forward plans.

The study of how the Earth has behaved during the past 2.5-million-years involves diverse agencies and numerous programs. For example, hydrology entails an understanding of rivers and landforms as well as soil development and groundwater movement on the 2.5-million-year time scale. A variety of organizations play a part, ranging from federal agencies (e.g., Department of Agriculture, USGS, Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and NASA) through the state geological surveys and water authorities to individual counties and cities. Pools of relevant information have grown, such as

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

TABLE 7.6 Priority Theme I: Global Paleoenvironments and Biological Evolution

Aim: To develop a record of the Earth, its atmosphere and hydrosphere, and the development of life. Such a record can provide a perspective for understanding continuing environmental change and its effect on the Earth's biosphere and for facilitating resource exploration.

Top-Priority Selection

The Past 2.5-Million-Years

 

Environmental and biological changes since the onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation

 

Ice record, glacial record, ancient oceanography, landforms, soils, drainage basins, river systems, shore lines, sea level change, lakes, frozen ground, deserts, climatic variation, orbital variation, faunas and floras (especially pollen), and hominid evolution. System modeling.

Other High-Priorities

Environmental and biological changes over the past 150-million-years since the oldest preserved oceans began to evolve

 

Ancient geography; oceanography; climate; faunal and floral evolution, including extinctions. Sea level changes, terrestrial and marine deposition, the change from a hothouse to an ice house Earth. Cyclical, secular, and catastrophic phenomena.

 

Environmental and biological changes prior to 150-million-years ago from the time of the earliest preserved sediments (3.8-billion-years old)

 

Evolution of organisms from the earliest of times, ancient geography, oceanography and climate, changes in atmospheric composition. Long-term changes in the surface environment. Ancient glaciations. Cyclical, secular, and catastrophic phenomena

Requirements

Improved resolution of rock and fossil ages. Instruments: Determination of elemental and isotopic compositions. Geological and related maps. Data bases, including subsurface records and the distribution of fossil taxa in space and time. Rock, fossil, and ice core collections with adequate curation, museums, geographic information systems, and modeling capabilities.

Major Relevant Federal Programs

NSF: Ocean Sciences Division—marine geology and geophysics, Ocean Drilling Program; Earth Sciences Division—surficial, paleobiology; Atmospheric Sciences Division—climate dynamics. USGS: various programs in Geologic Division and Water Resources Division. DOE: Carbon dioxide program. NOAA and DOD: various marine programs. Army Corps of Engineers: various coastal and riverine programs. USDA: programs in Soil Conservation Service.

State Programs

State geological surveys: mapping and resource studies, hydrologic studies.

Industry

Hydrocarbon, mineral, and water resource activities require understanding of the rock record of environmental and biological changes. Industry scientists are active in this area of research.

International

Ocean Drilling Program, International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, PAGES: Past Global Changes, International Geological Correlation Program.

Selected Recent Reports

NRC: Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (1991), Research Strategies for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (1990), Global Surficial Geofluxes (1993), Sea Level Change (1990); NSF: Unified Theory of Earth Sciences (1988), Report on Earth System History (1991); NASA: Solid-Earth Sciences in the 1990s (1991); IGBP Report No. 12 (1990).

Recommendations

Undertake a coordinated thrust at understanding how the Earth's environment and biology have changed in the past 2.5-million-years. The current research activities of many federal agencies bear on this issue, and international involvement would be appropriate as well.

topographic and geological maps and well-log and sample stores. This diversity of involvement extends to the coasts and shallow-waters of the nation. For the deep oceans, research is funded largely through the Marine Geology and Geophysics Branch of NSF's Ocean Sciences Division, although the USGS, NOAA, and the Department of Defense also are involved.

Instrumentation for both stable and radioactive isotopic analysis will be required for programs dealing with this interval, including access to tandem accelerator facilities where appropriate. On a global scale, ice core drilling and analysis of the samples represents a unique capability.

Because the kinds of data used to study the past 2.5-million-years are so diverse, there is an exceptional need to build up data bases that include paleontological, depositional environment, paleo-

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

geographic, paleomagnetic, paleohydrologic, and paleotemperature data. The data can then be used to construct paleoenvironmental models, including models of oceanic and atmospheric circulation. Geographic information system approaches are beginning to prove powerful in this kind of data handling, modeling, display, and curation; the use of spatially registered data is likely to grow.

Constant recycling of the ingredients of geological materials accompanies the Earth's evolution. The dimensions and time scales of geochemical cycles within the deep interior are much greater than those of the biogeochemical cycles external to the Earth's surfaces that involve the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere.

Priority Theme II: Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

The principal aim of this priority theme is to determine how, when, and where materials move across the interfaces between mantle and crust, continent and ocean floor, solid-earth and hydrosphere, and hydrosphere and atmosphere; cycling through the biosphere is particularly important.

The early fractionation of the Earth led to the formation of the core, mantle, oceans, and atmosphere. Geological cycles transport material across the geospheres in a variety of ways, and many geochemical and biological cycles have been identified and studied. The near-surface rapid chemical cycles involving atmosphere, oceans, soils, and biosphere (reviewed in Chapter 3) are linked with other much slower cycles through the interior (reviewed in Chapter 2), and the equations for recycled elements cannot be solved without including all transportation paths and reservoirs. There is a contrast between the information about conditions at the surface and in the ocean and atmosphere through relatively short time scales, which comes mainly from stable isotopes in sedimentary rocks, and the information about cycling within and through the mantle on long time scales, which comes mostly from long-lived radiogenic isotopes in mantle-derived rocks.

The plate tectonic cycle leads to the continuous creation of the oceanic crust at ocean ridges and its recycling at ocean trenches. Of particular interest are the fluxes of materials and volatile components through the solid-earth in these two environments. Unanswered questions include why a planet has plate tectonics and how subduction is initiated.

The continental crust has a composition that is fundamentally different from that of the oceanic crust and, on average, that is substantially older. Questions remaining about the chemical evolution of the continental crust include how it is formed; whether its evolution depends on the hydrologic cycle, weathering, and erosion; and whether (and, if so, how) significant quantities of continental crust are recycled into the mantle. There are also large uncertainties in the estimates of how much water and carbon dioxide are cycled through the deep mantle from the surface.

Biogeochemical cycling through geological time is of special importance because life and its environment evolve together. The atmospheric oxygen that life depends on is a product of continuing biological activity (photosynthesis) that began billions of years ago. The history of life and how it has affected the chemistry of the environment can be followed using geochemical tools.

Isotopic studies have played a key role in studies of global geochemical cycles and will continue to do so. Stable isotope ratios, such as those of carbon and oxygen, provide important chemical tracers. For example, do diamonds contain organic carbon that has been recycled into the interior of the Earth? Radiogenic isotopes can quantify the size and mean age of major global reservoirs, providing information that is complementary to geophysical studies of heterogeneities in the mantle, which are being interpreted in terms of convection.

Top Priority, Theme II:
Biogeochemistry and Rock Cycles Through Time

The challenge is to interface models of geochemical cycles of the surface environment with climatic models, and with models of the geochemistry of the deep-earth system, to establish how the cycles have operated. Special

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

TABLE 7.7 Priority Theme II: Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

Aim: Determine how, when, and where materials are moving across the interfaces between mantle and crust, continent and ocean floor, solid-earth and hydrosphere, and hydrosphere and atmosphere; cycling through the biosphere is particularly important.

Top-Priority Selection

Biogeochemistry and Rock Cycles Through Time

Establish how biogeochemical cycles have operated through time

Interpret elemental, mineralogical, and isotopic records of compositional variation in sedimentary rocks from a full range of times and a variety of environments, including oceanic, continental margin, and terrestrial. Interpret organic isotopic geochemistry and fluid inclusions in sediments. Infer ancient atmospheric and oceanic chemistry.

Other High-Priorities

Construct models of interaction between biogeochemical cycles and the solid-earth and climatic cycles that generally operate on longer and shorter time scales

An integrated approach ultimately requires estimates of all fluxes across all interfaces and construction of models using such inputs as continental configurations, oceanic composition and circulation, and global volcanic fluxes.

Establish how geochemical cycles operate in the modern world Understand weathering, soil evolution, diagenesis, nutrient cycling, gas hydrate formation and destruction, volcanic and metamorphic degassing.

Requirements

High-quality material from the entire rock record, obtained partly from ocean drilling and other core collections and partly by dedicated drilling and outcrop study (e.g., drilling continental margins and basins). Instruments for elemental, mineralogical, and isotopic analyses, including fluid-inclusion measurements where needed. Continental margin carbonate records as a special need and organic geochemical data as another. Data handling systems, GIS and modeling capabilities. Maps of ancient geography, environments, and oceanography as input for modeling.

Major Relevant Federal Programs

NSF: Earth Sciences Division. USGS: Geologic Division and Water Resources Division. DOE: Carbon dioxide program. IGC/CSD (Interagency Coordinating Group/Continental Scientific Drilling program—NSF, USGS, DOE). Museums.

State Programs

State geological surveys, mapping, curation (especially cores).

Industry

Oil, gas, coal, and mineral industry interest in changes in the ancient environment relate to geochemical change.

International

Ocean Drilling Program, International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, International Geological Correlation Program.

Selected Recent Reports

NRC: Research Strategies for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (1990), Global Surficial Geofluxes (1993); NSF: A Unified Theory of Planet Earth (1988).

Recommendation

Establish how global geochemical cycles have operated through time. This information, which is essential to determining how the earth system operates, is now a realistic target that could be achieved by coordinating a number of federal programs and current national and international activities.

attention is needed to understand the fluxes of fluids (magmas and solutions) through and between various geospheres.

The sedimentary rock record contains evidence of how the surface environment has changed as the Earth has evolved. Major, trace, and isotopic variations in the compositions of sedimentary rocks help to define the properties of the ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere at the time they were deposited. Chapter 3 discusses evidence of how, for example, temperatures and atmospheric composition have changed over the past 100-million-years. Instrumental capabilities now exist to extract this kind of information from sedimentary rocks of all ages. Analytical data at present relate to sporadically distributed samples and represent time intervals in disparate ways. Their quality is also very uneven. Two steps are necessary for the implementation of this priority: (1) the acquisition of samples that are representative of the geological record and (2) access to the appropriate instrumentation. Once the samples and analyses are available, the challenge will be to establish the critical state variables for times past and to work out how and why the surface environment has changed with time. Supplementary information of several

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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kinds will be needed. For example, the extent of the flooding of the continents must be estimated from paleogeographic mapping.

The right kinds of samples are to some extent available, or at least accessible, through field work and through archives such as the Deep-Sea Drilling Project and ODP core collections. Some environments, such as continental margin carbonate deposits, are underrepresented, and dedicated continental drilling will be required to complete the record for certain intervals in some kinds of sedimentary basins.

Analytical facilities need to lay emphasis on stable isotope geochemistry and the isotopic geochemistry of organic compounds, but minor element geochemistry and strontium isotopic geochemistry also are important, as is mineralogy. The ability to analyze material from special environments, such as fluid inclusions in sediments, is needed.

Other High Priorities

For Theme II Table 7.7 gives two additional high-priority items selected from the many opportunities listed in Table 7.4 and discussed in Chapters 2 and 3. The first item arises from the need to interface models of geochemical cycles of the surface environment with climatic models and models of the geochemistry of the deep-earth system. It is particularly challenging. Although there are both material and energy fluxes across the interfaces between these systems, the time scales on which the cycles operate differ by orders of magnitude. The second high-priority item involves intensive study of the key processes operating today at or near the surface, those that involve rock-fluid interactions, as a guide to and calibration for the interpretation of cycles in the past.

Programs and Infrastructure

Table 7.7 summarizes the relevant programs, along with the industry involvement and facilities required to accomplish the research. Access to high-speed computers and the ability to handle large data sets are needed.

Most of the chemical exchanges within and on the Earth involve the transport of material in fluid form—in magmas, solutions, and gases. Magmas differentiate the Earth into its major components: the core, mantle, crust, and fluid envelopes. Fluids are associated with erosion and deposition, volcanic eruptions, mineral deposits, petroleum and natural gas, water resources, and waste disposal.

Priority Theme III: Fluids in and on the Earth

The principal aim here is to understand how fluids (magmas, lavas, solutions, gases) move both at the surface and inside the Earth. The fluids include magmas rising from great depths to volcanic eruptions and solutions and gases distributed mainly through the crust but also in the mantle. A distinction is made between the interactions in the interior and those at the surface. Subsurface water is the dominant fluid in the shallow crust, whereas magmas become important at greater depths, although they locally reach the surface at volcanoes.

The surface processes of erosion and deposition have shaped the surface environment throughout its history. The landforms thus generated are treated in this volume as the surface of the dynamic continents; they are discussed in Chapters 3 and 5. The concentration is on fluids within the Earth.

Magmas are covered in Chapters 2 and 4, and water and other fluids receive major attention in Chapters 3 and 4. Applications of processes involving fluids are discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. The chemical differentiation of the crust, hydrosphere, and atmosphere was accomplished by partial melting at depth within the Earth and then by the transfer of magmas, followed by sedimentary processes. Magmatic processes also lead to the concentration of elements into ore deposits.

The migration of fluids through the crust plays an essential role in its chemical evolution. Fluids promote chemical reactions and transport dissolved elements. They play an important part in faulting mechanics. Many basic questions regarding fluid migration remain unanswered or only partially answered, including how deep fluids penetrate into the crust in significant quantities, whether large quantities of fluid move laterally distances of hundreds of kilometers or more, and what the driving mecha-

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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TABLE 7.8 Priority Theme III: Fluids in and on the Earth

Aim: To understand how fluids (magmas, lavas, solutions, gases) move both at the surface and inside the Earth.

Top-Priority Selection

Fluid Pressure and Fluid Composition in the Crust

Understanding of the three-dimensional distribution of fluids in the crust, including their pressure and compositional variations

Direct observation of fluids: groundwater, oil, gas, hydrothermal solutions. Pressure and temperature measurements. Elemental and isotopic chemistry characterizing dissolved materials as ionic or other. Indirect inferences from minerals and rocks. Remote sensing of in-ground fluids by geophysics. Fluids in the oceanic crust at spreading centers and fluids in convergent margins, especially accretionary prisms. Rock characteristics controlling permeability and dispersion. Kinetics of rock-water interaction.

Other High-Priorities

Modeling fluid flow in sedimentary basins

Groundwater, hydrothermal, oil, and gas flow.

Understanding of microbial influences on fluid chemistry, particularly groundwater

Observations and experiments, the effects of specialized bacteria.

Requirements

Analytical instruments, elemental and isotopic, experimental facilities, new geophysical instrumentation, drilling on continents and oceans, including hostile hot environments. Down-hole instruments for monitoring and experiment. Curation, especially of cores. Data-handling and modeling capability; high-speed computer access.

Major Relevant Federal Programs

NSF: Earth Sciences Division. USGS: Geologic Division and Water Resources Division. DOE: Office of Basic Energy Sciences; programs in waste isolation and cleanup. IGC/CSD (Interagency Coordinating Group/Continental Scientific Drilling program—NSF, USGS, DOE).

State Programs

State geological, oil, mineral, and groundwater programs. Waste isolation and cleanup programs, core storage and archival activities.

Industry

Oil, gas, groundwater, well logging, geophysical and geochemical instrumentation. Waste isolation and subsurface restoration.

International

Ocean Drilling Program, RIDGE, hydrological activities, continental drilling.

Selected Recent Reports

NRC: Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (1991), Rethinking Radioactive Waste Isolation (1990), The Role of Fluids in Crustal Processes (1990); NSF: A Unified Theory of Planet Earth (1988).

Recommendation

Take up the challenge of investigating the three-dimensional distribution of fluid pressure and fluid composition in the Earth's crust. The instrumental, observational, and modeling capabilities that exist within various federal programs can be effectively focused on this problem. International coordination is important.

nisms are for fluid migration (possibilities include temperature, topography, and tectonic forces).

The fluids that occupy pore spaces in rocks—including hot and cold waters, steam, oil, natural gas, and partially molten rock—interact physically and chemically with their solid surroundings. Research on the behavior of these fluids represents one of the fastest-growing branches of the solid-earth sciences. Observational, experimental, theoretical, modeling, and predictive studies are all expanding. Although the different fluids represent very different environments, there are similarities in behavior in many different parts of the solid-earth. The fundamental processes associated with fluid migration in the crust must be studied in situ. This requires drilling into active zones of migration. Careful selection of drill sites, with improved downhole instrumentation, can provide the basic data set required to develop applicable theory.

Most essential nonrenewable resources involve some interaction between the solid-earth and fluids. Research on materials such as water, oil, natural gas, sedimentary ore bodies, geothermal energy, hydrothermally deposited ores, coal, limestone, and gravel all find a place under this priority theme.

Transfers of energy and material from the realm dominated by internal energy to the surface where solar energy dominates, and then back into the interior, constitute a part of the biogeochemical cycles of the planet. Many of these transfers involve interactions between the solid-earth and its fluids.

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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The interface geochemistry of mineral-fluid assemblages is of fundamental importance, both in the crust and deep within the mantle.

Top Priority, Theme III: Fluid Pressure and Composition in the Crust

Understanding of the three-dimensional distribution of fluids in the crust, including their pressure and compositional variations.

The three-dimensional distribution of fluid pressure and fluid composition in the crust can best be addressed by an integrated approach that uses information obtained in a variety of ways. Direct observation of fluids within the crust and of fluids that have been extracted from the crust is essential. This is most feasible for groundwater, oil, and natural gas, but hydrothermal fluids are now being sampled. How to sample magmas at shallow depth is a current challenge. Measurements of the chemical and isotopic composition of these fluids is required. Continental drilling in selected environments is needed; the operation of instruments in drill holes for geochemical and geophysical measurements is desirable on short- and long-term bases.

There is a long and successful tradition of inferring the properties of fluids that have flowed through rocks from the physical and chemical properties of rocks accessible at the surface or in drill holes. Inferences about the subsurface distribution of fluids have long been made from geophysical observations at the surface and in boreholes. A current challenge is to develop reliable techniques for the direct remote sensing of subsurface fluids and their permeability.

There are well-defined problems related to the distribution of fluid in the oceanic crust. At spreading centers both hydrothermal and magmatic fluids are accessible, and the RIDGE initiative includes plans for ocean drilling and submersible study. An important step has been taken in the first dedicated ODP drilling of a sedimented spreading center. Fluid fluxes through accretionary prisms at convergent plate boundaries are recognized as representing a critical element in geochemical cycling but are proving very difficult to quantify. An integrated approach, using ocean drilling with a variety of other geophysical, geological, and geochemical techniques, is likely to be needed.

With sufficient observational data, scientific understanding, and insight, the problem of the role of fluid-driven mass (and heat) transport in rocks can be defined in a manner amenable to a mathematical solution that simulates coupled flow problems and involves physical transport and chemical reactions and kinetics. Much future research will be directed toward placing confidence bands about the output of analytical models, including predictions of future system behavior.

Other High Priorities

Of the many other research opportunities cited in Chapters 3, 4, and 5, two are listed in Table 7.8 for Theme III. The first is a most important part of the top-priority selection—to model the fluid flow in sedimentary basins. The subject of sedimentary basins as an integrative theme has recurred throughout this volume. The second focuses on the details of the chemical interaction at surfaces between minerals and fluids, particularly the role of bacteria. The same topic, applied specifically to organic wastes, is the top-priority recommendation for Priority Theme D.

Programs and Infrastructure

For Theme III Table 7.8 summarizes the relevant programs along with the industry involvement and facilities required to accomplish the research. The preeminent need is for experimental facilities, for hydrothermal systems and high-temperature, large-volume experiments. Access to data-handling and high-speed computational facilities for modeling is required, as are adequate core-storage facilities.

Priority Theme IV: Crustal Dynamics—Ocean and Continent

The principal aim of this priority theme is to understand how the Earth's crust originates and evolves, including the nature and history of the deformations and mass transfer processes responsible for building and modifying the continents, mountain belts, island arcs, and ocean basins.

New and continuing studies regarding the origin, structure, mass transfer processes, and history of continents and continental building blocks promise excellent research returns, as discussed in Chapters 2, 3, and 4. The shaping of the land surface into landforms is treated in Chapters 3 and 5. Plate tectonics provides a basic framework for understanding how the crust is deformed. In oceanic regions the deformation is relatively simple, with creation of new crust at spreading centers, destruction or reorganization of crust at oceanic trenches, and lateral movement of crustal blocks on transform faults. Studies of these fundamental processes are

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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TABLE 7.9 Priority Theme IV: Crustal Dynamics—Ocean and Continent

Aim: To understand how the Earth's crust originates and evolves, including the nature and history of the deformations and mass transfer processes responsible for building and modifying the continents, mountain belts, island arcs, and ocean basins.

Top-Priority Selection

Active Crustal Deformation

Integrated field studies using a variety of complementary techniques for understanding the active deformation of both oceanic and continental crust

Permanent and temporary seismic networks and arrays, geodesy (especially space geodesy), paleoseismology, neotectonics, seismic profiling, heat flow, gravity, magnetic and other geophysical techniques, geological and geomorphic studies, ages of materials and surface, including cosmogenic nuclide techniques, continental and oceanic drilling. Topographic data on land and below sea level, including side-look sonar data. Laboratory deformation studies, earthquake mechanisms, thermochronology, fluid behavior, and integrated modeling of stress and temperature fields. Studies on critical areas: United States—Pacific northwest, San Andreas, Basin and Range, Alaska; international—Tibet, Himalaya, active rifts in Africa, Asia; oceans—spreading centers, transforms, and convergent boundaries.

Other High-Priorities

Landform response to climatic, tectonic, and hydrologic events

The concept of time, landform evolution, and thresholds of instability are critical for predictions of future landform responses, and the combination of space-based observations and new dating methods provide new opportunities.

Understanding crustal evolution

Integrated topographic, geophysical, and geological field studies, including deep seismic reflection programs, with refraction and wide-angle reflection. Studies directed at critical examples of older oceanic, arc, and continental environments. Drilling in critical sites; laboratory studies, including elemental, mineral, and isotopic analyses. Experimental petrology, modeling.

Requirements

Seismic networks and arrays, geodetic facilities, geophysical and geological field studies, physical and chemical laboratory measurements of earth materials. Data bases, including maps. Modeling capabilities.

Major Relevant Federal Programs

NSF: two NSF technology centers; Earth Sciences Division—continental dynamics, geophysics. USGS: Geologic Division—seismology and NEHRP. IRIS (funded by NSF, DOD). NOAA. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. DOD. FEMA.

State Programs

State geological mapping and hazard programs. Archiving: cores, logs, other data.

Industry

Hazard assessments, oil, gas, coal, and mineral industries.

International

Global seismic networks and geodetic networks, International Commission on the Lithosphere, International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction, Ocean Drilling Program.

Selected Recent Reports

NRC: Real-Time Earthquake Monitoring (1991), Assessing the Nation's Earthquakes: The Health and Future of Regional Seismograph Networks (1990), International Global Network of Fiducial Stations (1990), Active Tectonics (1986), Geodesy in the Year 2000 (1990); NSF: A Unified Theory of Planet Earth (1988), Ocean Drilling Program: Long-Range Plan (1990); NASA: Solid-Earth Science in the 1990s (1991).

Recommendation

Coordinate and intensify efforts to understand active crustal deformation. The opportunity exists to revolutionize current knowledge of this area, which is vital not only to solid-earth science but also to the missions of several federal agencies and various state and international bodies.

being refined using new high-resolution marine data and satellite altimetry.

Evolution of the lithosphere cannot be understood without better constraints on lithosphere-asthenosphere coupling and flow regimes. The geochemical evolution, tectonics, and thermal history of the crust are inextricably intertwined with the dynamics of the upper mantle. There are great opportunities for vastly improved three-dimensional mapping of the crust and upper mantle, its structure, and its properties.

Modeling of the behavior of the ocean floor was one of the earliest successes of the plate tectonics revolution; a more recent success has been modeling of the thermal and igneous behavior of active spreading centers. The complex structural patterns revealed by modern topographic studies show that there is a need for further analysis before the fault and topographic patterns at the spreading centers can be interpreted equally well.

Deformation of the continental crust is much more complex than in the oceans, and the crust is

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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much thicker. A combination of geological mapping and seismic studies, together with data from deep drill holes, is required for determination of continental structure. Seismic networks take the pulse of the crust, providing information on where deformation is occurring and on its state of stress. Seismic reflection profiling was developed by the petroleum industry to determine the structure of sedimentary basins. The projects of the Consortium for Continental Reflection Profiling and later programs in the United States and elsewhere have used this technique to determine the deep three-dimensional structure of active and ancient mountain belts.

Geochemical studies of minerals and rocks provide data essential for characterization of rock masses and for dating geological processes. Experimental phase equilibrium studies provide the framework for calibration of the processes, depths, and temperatures of deformation of rocks and the behavior of magmas.

Crustal dynamics may soon be interpretable in terms of a fully integrated model of the earth system. Such a system will demonstrate how the results of global topography can be related to mantle convection and how this in turn can be related to global plate tectonics and rifting of the lithosphere, as well as to the modes and rates of formation, and removal by erosion, of mountain ranges. The model will include answers to questions about how global heat flow and heat flux through ocean and continental crust have changed; how seafloor spreading rates and length of mid-ocean ridges have changed; how the rate of subduction and length of subduction zones have changed; how to reconstruct the former positions of continents, geological terranes, and passive and active margins; and how the near-surface processes are linked to energetic phenomena at the core-mantle boundary. Each of these research areas demands new theoretical models and the relating of these models to the total geological picture.

The physical response to stresses associated with mantle motions and the forceful erosion of the continents by the fluid envelopes of the atmosphere and hydrosphere shape the rocks from which humanity obtains its resources and control the stability of the surface over which the bloom of humanity spreads.

Top Priority, Theme IV: Active Crustal Deformation

Integrated field studies using a variety of complementary techniques for understanding oceanic and continental crust deformation.

A practical distinction is made between deformation of the continents and deformation of the ocean floor because different techniques are applicable in the two environments. Integrated approaches to understanding, using a variety of complementary techniques, are a strongly recommended feature of research in both environments.

Active crustal deformation in the oceans can be addressed by combination of the following techniques: (1) seismic networks to localize and characterize earthquakes (this includes networks consisting of temporary deployments of ocean-bottom seismographs); (2) other geophysical techniques, including seismic profiling and refraction, heat flow, gravity, magnetic, and electromagnetic methods of study; (3) high-resolution topographic surveys involving multibeam and near-bottom-source echo sounding and side-look sonar; (4) direct observation and sampling using submersible vessels and remotely operated vehicles; (5) ocean drilling; and (6) geodetic observations. At present these are practicable only in places like the Afar and Iceland, where active ''oceanic" crustal deformation is taking place above sea level, but there exists a possibility of developing underwater geodetic techniques.

The various methods of studying active deformation of the ocean floor are of different utility for spreading centers and convergent boundaries. Active transform boundaries represent a third and slightly different environment for research. Continuing modeling needs require access to and manipulation of very large data sets.

Active crustal deformation in the continents can also be addressed by half a dozen methods: (1) seismic networks to localize and characterize earthquakes; (2) geodetic studies, including continuous monitoring to assess how strain is built up and released; (3) paleoseismology, including trenching to date how earthquakes have occurred through time on time scales of up to tens of thousands of years; (4) other geophysical techniques, including seismic profiling and refraction, heat flow, gravity, magnetic, and electromagnetic methods of study and remote sensing; (5) geological and geomorphic

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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field studies complemented by determination of the ages of surfaces and deposits eroded from active areas (dating of minerals at outcrop and in sediments helps in determining the timing and extent of active processes); and (6) dedicated drilling. This last method can play a particularly useful role in the study of active deformation because it allows fluids in faults to be directly observed and permits direct estimates of stress distribution close to the hole. Instruments for a variety of measurements, including seismometers, can be placed in drilled holes to great effect. Integrated observations of active deformation of the kind outlined above require an ability to model deformation, stress, temperature, and compositional data on solids and fluids together. Laboratory deformation studies are needed as well.

Antarctica and Greenland present particular challenges in continental dynamics. Airborne measurements of elevation, ice thickness, gravity, and magnetics, with useful spatial resolution, are becoming feasible because of GPS navigation; these measurements could revolutionize our understanding of the dynamics of these continents.

Other High Priorities

For Theme IV Table 7.9 lists two other high-priority topics. The first is the response of landforms to climatic, tectonic, and hydrologic events—another integrated topic dealing with the surface on which humankind lives. The second is the evolution of the whole crust, which deals with the history and products of past active processes. Other priority research is described in Chapters 2, 3, and 5.

Programs and Infrastructure

Active deformation on the ocean floor is primarily a topic of research sponsored by NSF, USGS, NOAA, and the Department of Defense (DOD). Seismological programs, including the activities of IRIS and ODP, represent two of the largest activities. The RIDGE initiative embraces much research on active deformation as well as igneous, hydrothermal, and biotic studies. Convergent margins have not yet lent themselves to such a coordinated initiative.

Federal, state, and local government agencies are all involved in active deformation studies. These studies are mainly related to earthquake research and considerations of hazard. Scientific leadership has traditionally come from the USGS and NSF; the establishment of NSF science and technology centers for earthquake engineering in Buffalo and Los Angeles (the Southern California Earthquake Center, which also has substantial USGS support) shows the continuing importance to the federal government of at least the seismic aspects of the study of active deformation. The National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) is a manifestation of the same continuing interest. Other federal agencies with a special interest in active deformation that is concentrated on earthquake research include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), DOD, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and DOE. The missions of these agencies are different, but they converge (or even overlap) in the area of active earthquake deformation of the continents. Special problems exist in areas such as New Madrid and Charleston, where episodes of active deformation can be separated by hundreds or even thousands of years, but substantial hazard ensues when events do occur. The NSF Division of Polar Programs is responsible for all scientific research in Antarctica, but other agencies (e.g., Naval Research Laboratory) do much in the Arctic.

Active deformation is strongly concentrated in areas close to plate boundaries and, within the continents, in broad plate boundary zones. In the United States these areas lie in the western states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Alaska. Current geological and geophysical studies are supported by federal agencies (principally USGS and NSF, but several others are involved, too) and state geological surveys. Outstanding advances in understanding active deformation have been made in all these areas in the past decade. The integrated approach recommended here is likely to prove critical in the future. It will, however, require an ability to model deformation, stress, temperature, and compositional data on solids and fluids together. Laboratory deformation studies also are needed.

Priority Theme V: Core and Mantle Dynamics

The principal aim of this priority theme is to understand the internal operation of the Earth in geophysical, geochemical, and geological terms as an essential element in developing a theory of the overall earth system.

Study of the deep interior has involved geophysical techniques such as seismic tomography as well as measurement of gravity, magnetic fields, and geodetic values. Isotopic and geochemical measurements have facilitated the evaluation of geophysical data. New ideas on the behavior of fluids in the deep

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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interior have been tested by experimentation and computer models. Laboratory simulation using high-pressure apparatus has provided information about the properties of mantle and core materials, as well as information for the calibration of processes in terms of depth and temperature.

Plate tectonics is a kinematic description of the movement of the surface plates, and it is now generally accepted that this movement is one result of thermal convection in the mantle. Aspects of mantle convection that are poorly understood include whether the whole mantle convects or whether mantle convection is layered, whether subducted lithosphere sinks to the core-mantle boundary at a depth of 2,900 km or only to a lower thermal boundary layer at 670 km, and whether volcanism within plates (rather than at plate margins) reflects rising plumes that are generated at a 670- or 2,900-km depth.

Studies of seismic velocities give a general density structure of the mantle but are only now beginning to resolve the density differences directly associated with mantle convection. Seismic tomography infers the global density structure. The quality of the data is quite variable because of the lack of global coverage of high-resolution seismographs. In order to infer temperature distributions from density distribution, detailed knowledge of the related state relations is required. This necessitates experiments at high pressures and temperatures on the relevant minerals and rocks.

Geochemical measurements of lavas and rocks from the mantle provide data that supplement the seismic approach. Radiogenic isotopes can quantify the size and mean ages of the mantle rock reservoirs from which the lavas were melted, thus bearing on the mantle's convection history.

The gravity field, especially as determined from spacecraft in low Earth orbit, contributes to our understanding of the mass distribution, and hence the convective flow, in the mantle. Measurements of the surface heat flow show that the flux is dominated by the convective transfer of hot material to the surface at ocean spreading centers, but quantifying heat transfer from mantle plumes and discriminating between heat generated within the continental crust and heat from the underlying mantle remain challenges. A further challenge is provided by electromagnetic measurements at the surface; it has not yet proved possible to infer much about mantle structure from these observations. The core exerts a major influence on the behavior of the lower mantle, and knowledge of the magnetic field and its time-dependent variation, as measured in magnetic observatories at the surface and in space, is essential to fully understand how the core works.

Changes in the structure of melts and the resultant density variations at high pressures may exert a major influence on the chemical differentiation of the Earth and other planets. Supercomputers make possible the theoretical modeling of mantle convection and of the atomic geochemistry of minerals and melts, using the first principles of quantum mechanics.

The operation of the Earth's internal engine is the main driving force for many geological processes, some of which are simultaneously influenced by the external engine, driven by solar energy. Understanding how our planet operates on the grandest scale provides data for improving conditions on Earth by predicting and developing theories for global earth systems.

Top Priority, Theme V: Mantle Convection

Establish the variations in temperature and composition and the resulting flow structure in the mantle. This involves physical and chemical approaches, laboratory calibrations, and imaging the interior by remote sensing.

The structure of the mantle is currently being investigated by four principal techniques:

  1. Interpreting earthquake signals received at global seismic network stations. Large numbers of these data are computed for numerous events in such techniques as "seismic tomography." This approach has allowed identification of those volumes of the mantle that have a velocity higher or lower than average. These volumes are resolved to such an extent that intriguing correlations with other phenomena are beginning to emerge. During the next decade greatly improved results can be expected from the accumulation of considerably more data, advances in the quality of instruments, deployment of instruments more widely over the surface of the Earth (in both permanent and temporary arrays), and advances in computational procedures.

  2. Interpreting the gravity field. The gravity field at

Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
×

and close to the surface depends on the local distribution of mass within the planet. At length scales of 100 km or more, this signal is dominated by mass distribution in the mantle. Resemblances between the mantle structure revealed by regional variations in the gravity field and the mantle structure determined from seismic data are beginning to emerge. Higher-resolution gravity data are needed. A satellite experiment in low Earth orbit (less than 200 km from the surface) could play a role, and airborne regional gravity is becoming a possibility with GPS positioning. Gravity data over land and ocean have been subject to military classification by many nations, but in a rapidly changing world this may not always be so.

  1. Interpreting geochemical, especially isotopic, variations in the mantle. Interpreting these variations from rocks derived by partial melting from different parts of the mantle provides an understanding of mantle heterogeneity that is completely independent of the above two sources of information but should be compatible. For example, rock composi

TABLE 7.10 Priority Theme V: Core and Mantle Dynamics

Aim: To understand the internal operation of the Earth in geophysical, geochemical, and geological terms as an essential element in developing a theory of the overall earth system.

Top-Priority Selection

Mantle Convection

Establish the variations in temperature and composition and the resulting flow structure in the mantle.

Heat generated inside the Earth drives plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Mantle convection is the deep underlying control of these and many other processes.

Other High-Priorities

To establish the origin and temporal variation of the earth's internally generated magnetic field

The main field is generated in the core, and its temporal variations indicate how it is generated and why it changes.

To understand the nature of the core-mantle boundary

Seismic observations are beginning to reveal heterogeneities on large spatial scales at this the most prominent reactive boundary within the Earth.

Requirements

Complete a global broadband high-dynamic-range seismometer network and temporary array capability, underwater where needed, and with colocated gravity, magnetic, and space geodetic instruments, where appropriate. New instruments and adequate samples for characterizing mantle-source geochemistry in elemental and isotopic composition. High-pressure and high-temperature instruments for experimental simulation. Synchrotron facilities. Satellite and airborne gravity and magnetic measurements. Access to supercomputational facilities for simulation of mantle flow. Ancient magnetic reversal data, ancient magnetic intensity data. Drilling active plumes.

Major Relevant Federal Programs

Seismic networks (USGS); IRIS (funded by NSF, DOD). NEHRP (NSF, USGS, FEMA). Magnetic observatories (USGS); satellite magnetics, gravity, and altimetry (NASA, DOD); space geodesy (NASA); UNAVCO (NSF funded). Advanced geochemical instrumentation (NSF, DOE, USGS). High-pressure experimentation (NSF, DOE). Drilling: ODP (NSF), Interagency Coordinating Group/Continental Scientific Drilling program (NSF, USGS, DOE). High-speed computation (NSF, DOE). Various other programs in NASA, NSF, DOD, DOE, and USGS.

State Programs

Seismic networks, drilling (Hawaii).

Industry

Instrument building.

International

SEDI (Studies of Earth's Deep Interior), international seismic networks. Satellites: TOPEX/POSEIDON, ARISTOTELES, MAGNOLIA. ODP.

Selected Recent Reports

NRC: Earth Materials Research (1987), Facilities for Earth Materials Research (1990), Assessing the Nation's Earthquakes (1990), International Global Network of Fiducial Stations (1991), Geodesy in the Year 2000 (1990), Geomagnetic Initiative (1993); NSF: A Unified Theory of Planet Earth (1988); NASA: Solid-Earth Sciences in the 1990s (1991).

Recommendation

Mount an integrated attack on solving the problem of understanding mantle convection. Seismic networks, satellite data, high-pressure experiments, magnetic observatories, geochemistry, drilling, and computational modeling can all be marshaled into the fray. Again, federal, national, and international organizations will be involved.

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    tions indicative of a source in a region of above-average mantle temperature could be expected to correlate with a region of slow seismic velocity and mass deficiency, as indicated by the gravity field. Fuller understanding of variations in temperature and compositional variation for the mantle will necessarily involve all three sources of information. The present mantle flow structure appears to record influences of subduction, and possibly other processes such as continental rupture, over time scales of hundreds of millions of years. These changes appear to be recorded by the compositions of igneous rocks derived from the mantle.

    1. Laboratory experiments attempting to replicate the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions of the mantle. Such experiments have greatly advanced in the past decade using diamond-anvil and split-sphere devices and dynamic shock-wave apparatus. There is now a need to improve the capabilities of existing instruments and to develop their successors. Carrying out experiments at high-temperature and high-pressure in larger volumes than is currently possible, and measuring the physical and chemical properties of materials under the experimental conditions are needed as an adjunct to other mantle studies. For many studies in mineral physics, pure crystals larger than a few tens of micrometers are needed. The technology available for the growth of laser and electrooptic crystals can also be used to grow large crystals of synthetic minerals.

    Other High Priorities

    For Theme V Table 7.10 gives two high-priority topics. The first is concerned with variations in the magnetic field. The second deals with the core-mantle boundary, where all of the approaches applied to mantle convection are relevant. Other priority research opportunities in this area are discussed at the end of Chapter 2.

    The magnetic field of the Earth consists of the main field generated in the core, signals from the lithosphere where magnetic minerals lie above their curie points, and the relatively rapidly varying signals of the external field. The magnetic field and its temporal variation can throw light on possible interaction at the core-mantle boundary. Continuing observations of the field at the surface in a global network of observatories and from space are needed to characterize the time-dependent behavior of the field. The lithosphere-generated part of the field is known very unevenly, and this data set needs improvement, too.

    Programs and Infrastructure

    Federal, state, and international programs for Theme V are listed in Table 7.10. The facilities required are numerous. A dense global digital network of modern seismographs would provide invaluable data on the Earth's structure and dynamic processes. The capability to deploy temporary seismic arrays in critical places is essential. Other important geophysical probes are needed to make gravity and magnetic measurements from the surface and satellites. Continuous monitoring of the Earth's magnetic field from orbit will be essential. Samples of ocean-floor basalt obtained by drilling will serve as a source of information on the chemical heterogeneity of the mantle. New generations of mass spectrometers and ion microprobes are needed, as well as improved experimental equipment for high-pressure, high-temperature studies in phase equilibria and the physical properties of mantle materials. Access to synchrotron radiation facilities is important. High-speed computational capabilities are critical for handling the vast amounts of data involved in mantle studies, both for processing and modeling.

    Priority Theme B:To Sustain Sufficient Natural Resources

    The principal aim of this priority theme is to develop dynamic, physical, and chemical methods of determining the locations and extent of nonrenewable resources and of exploiting those resources using environmentally responsible techniques. The question of sustainability, the carrying capacity of the Earth, becomes more significant as the resource requirements grow.

    Chapter 4 covers this area, drawing on Chapters 2 and 3; the environmental aspects are considered in Chapter 5. The Research Framework for these studies involves all five priority research themes.

    In many parts of the United States, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. Groundwater is required for both human consumption and agriculture. It is essential to develop an understanding of the rates at which groundwater is being replaced. Water-use regulations must be based on scientific understanding of the fundamental processes and basic information about water quantity and quality. Even where abundant water resources are available, the pervasive nature of pollution is only now becoming evident. A sound basis must be provided for the siting of waste repositories of all types.

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    As known mineral deposits are mined and consumed, the need to discover additional, often buried, deposits increases. Integrated studies involving all superposed geological processes, drawing on a wealth of new global tectonic and geochemical concepts, are generating mineral deposit models for making resource predictions. The countries with the strongest mineral resource positions a decade or two from now will be those that know in the best detail the structure of the upper 10 km of their continental crust.

    To ensure a continuous and reasonable supply of water, energy, and mineral resources for the nation and the world, we need comprehensive understanding of the Earth's crust and its fluids.

    It is only a matter of time until global shortages of petroleum resources develop. It is essential that the United States develop all available petroleum resources and improve the efficiency of extraction. The importance and extent of both horizontal and vertical migration must be evaluated. Methods of primary recovery extract

    TABLE 7.11 Priority Theme B: To Sustain Sufficient Natural Resources

    Aim: To develop dynamic, physical, and chemical methods of determining the locations and extent of nonrenewable resources and of exploiting those resources using environmentally responsible techniques. The question of sustainability, the carrying capacity of the Earth, becomes more significant as the resource requirements grow.

    Top-Priority Selection

    Improve the Monitoring and Assessment of the Nation's Water Quantity and Quality

    To manage water resources and promote scientific advances in understanding, it is essential to maintain and improve the nation's programs of monitoring and assessing the physical, chemical, and biological properties of water resources—both surface waters and groundwaters.

    Other High-Priorities

    Sedimentary basin research, particularly for improved resource recovery

    Origin and evolution of sedimentary basins; how source rocks, reservoirs, and traps form and evolve; movement of fluids (oil, water, and gas) in basins; thermal and diagenetic histories; origin of petroleum. High-resolution reservoir studies. Modeling of coal, oil, gas, minerals (e.g., uranium), and water in basins embodying geological history as well as thermal, chemical, and fluid transport with time.

    Improvement of thermodynamic and kinetic understanding of water-rock interaction and mineral-water interface geochemistry

    Application to understanding fluid circulation in the geothermal environment.

    Development of energy and mineral exploration, production, and assessment strategies

    The strategies involve modeling, artificial intelligence, and geophysical site characterization, with particular applications to the search for totally buried ("blind") ore bodies.

    Requirements

    Water-sampling network and analytical facilities; field and subsurface data, including geophysical data for sedimentary basins, cores, cuttings, well logs, curation. Organic, elemental, and isotopic analytical instruments. Modeling capabilities.

    Major Relevant Federal Programs

    For water: USGS: Water Resources Division, including NAWQA (with EPA and DOE). For sedimentary basins: USGS, NSF, DOE. For mineral deposits: USGS, NSF, Bureau of Mines, DOE.

    State Programs

    State geological mapping and resource studies; archival logs, core cuttings, state water-resource quality programs. Local (county and city) water programs.

    Industry

    Oil, gas, and mineral exploration and production companies; activities of hydrogeological corporations and consultants.

    International

    Ocean Drilling Program.

    Selected Recent Reports

    NRC: Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (1991), The Role of Fluids in Crustal Processes (1990).

    Recommendation

    Establish a dense network of water quality and quantity measurements, including resampling at appropriate intervals. Coordination of federal and state agencies that have programs in the field will be needed.

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    TABLE 7.12 Priority Theme C: To Mitigate Geological Hazards

    Aim: To determine the nature of geological hazards—earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, soil erosion, floods, hazardous materials (e.g., asbestos)—and to reduce, control, and mitigate the effect of these hazardous phenomena. It is important to consider risk assessment and levels of acceptable risk.

    Top-Priority Selection

    Define and Characterize Regions of Seismic Hazard

    Hazard reduction requires better understanding of where and how earthquakes occur, and progress toward predicting when they are likely to occur can emerge from this understanding.

    National and regional seismic information, real-time earthquake monitoring, seismotectonic regionalization, paleoseismology, neotectonics, active fault studies, geodesy, strong-motion seismology.

    Other High-Priorities

    Define and characterize areas of landslide hazard

    Use of GIS, ancient landslides, landslide mechanisms, timing, frequency, diversity.

    Define and characterize potential volcanic hazards

    Real-time volcano monitoring of seismicity, surface deformation, thermal and infrared measurements, gaseous emissions.

    Requirements

    Seismic networks; strong-motion instrumentation; fault studies, including trenching. High-resolution topographic and geological maps. Geodesy, including space geodesy; surface, airborne, and space-borne volcano monitoring. Land-based, airborne, space-borne, and marine coastline monitoring.

    Major Relevant Federal Programs

    NSF: two NSF technology centers; Earth Sciences Division—continental dynamics, geophysics. USGS: Geologic Division—seismology and NEHRP. IRIS (funded by NSF, DOD). NOAA. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. DOD. FEMA.

    State Programs

    State geological, hazard, and other programs (e.g., highways).

    Industry

    Engineering geology/earthquakes, landslides.

    International

    IDNDR, international and volcanologic and seismic programs.

    Selected Recent Reports

    NRC: Real-Time Earthquake Monitoring (1991), Assessing the Nation's Earthquakes (1990), A Safer Future (1990), Active Tectonics (1986).

    Recommendation

    Define and characterize regions of seismic hazard. Because many people and much property in the United States are endangered by earthquakes, improved understanding of seismic occurrences is a pressing need. This issue is important to the missions of several federal agencies and to organizations ranging from local to international.

    only 25 to 30 percent of the available petroleum from a field. The development of more efficient techniques of secondary and tertiary recovery must be a high-priority. This will require a fundamental understanding of transport processes in the crust, including the distribution of porosity and permeability.

    Top Priority, Theme B: A National Assessment of Water Quality and Quantity

    Maintain the quality and supply of water. The immediate requirement is the establishment of a comprehensive network for sampling surface waters and groundwaters, which could be used for water management and scientific understanding.

    A water quality and quantity assessment program should be developed and maintained. Surface waters and groundwaters must be sampled using a comprehensive network and must be chemically analyzed in a program that provides for regular repetition of sampling and analysis. Because we have no adequate baseline data set for the nation's water quality and quantity, it will be difficult to quantify changes that are taking place now or that may take place in the future. Acquisition of such data is an important step in the formulation of research programs dealing with the nation's water supply.

    The need for this kind of network has been recognized, and the activities of the National Water Quality Assessment Program represent an important start. But establishing an adequate network has proved difficult, partly because there is no single federal agency with the lead responsibility and

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    partly because so many state and local agencies are involved.

    Other High Priorities

    For Theme B Table 7.11 lists three other high-priority areas, which are discussed in Chapter 4. Related aspects relevant to the environment and waste disposal are treated in Chapter 5. The first topic, sedimentary basins, is a recurrent high-priority theme involving all of the resources considered here. An integrated multidisciplinary approach to resource assessment and exploitation is needed. A much greater emphasis must be placed on understanding and possible mitigation of the potential adverse effects of exploiting and using petroleum and mineral resources. The second topic involves the frontier of mineral-water interface geochemistry, which has relevance for all resources and many geological processes. The third topic involves development of mineral exploration and assessment strategies.

    Programs and Infrastructure

    Federal and state programs for Theme B are listed in Table 7.11. Industry is heavily involved in these endeavors, of course, and much of the research in energy and mineral resources is driven by economic and political factors.

    The classic aim is to determine and control earthquake hazards, volcanic hazards, soil erosion, landslides and land subsidence, and floods, but hazards are increasingly associated with water pollution and with rocks and minerals in the human environment.

    Priority Theme C: To Mitigate Geological Hazards

    The principal aim of this priority theme is to determine the nature of geological hazards—earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, soil erosion, floods, hazardous materials (asbestos)—and to reduce, control, and mitigate the effect of these hazardous phenomena. It is important to consider risk assessment and levels of acceptable risk.

    Some of the geological processes described in Chapters 2 and 3 are associated with hazards, which are reviewed in Chapter 5. New and continuing studies on land resources and geological hazards are required to develop an understanding of the global ecosystem. The relevant basic research involves the priority research themes of mantle convection, continental dynamics, and fluid fluxes. Floods, landslides, and hurricanes are hazards related to the interaction of the Earth's fluid envelope with its surface. Research on these topics in the solid-earth sciences is primarily directed toward understanding the environmental conditions, so that adverse consequences can be minimized in the future by an informed society.

    A large fraction of the U.S. population is subject to the prospect of a destructive earthquake, the most feared natural phenomenon. The primary reason for this fear is that earthquakes occur without warning. Earthquake prediction, a major scientific goal, must be pursued both empirically by studying a variety of precursory phenomena and theoretically by developing a better understanding of the fundamental mechanics of crustal mechanics. Seismic networks provide important information on where deformation is occurring and on the state of stress in the crust. At the present time, the relative earthquake hazard can be estimated. Earthquakes will certainly occur with higher frequency in the western United States than in the eastern part. Earthquakes can be expected to occur on the San Andreas Fault, but they also occur on many other faults, mapped and unmapped. In terms of hazard assessment, important areas of research include a better understanding of earthquakes on secondary faults in an active tectonic zone and a better understanding of why earthquakes occur in plate interiors (the 1811-1812 sequence of major earthquakes near New Madrid, Missouri, is an example).

    Volcanism is an essential process in the geochemical evolution of our planet. It also presents a substantial hazard to humans. Millions of people live in areas that have been devastated by recent eruptions and the associated mudflows. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo disrupted the lives of thousands of people and killed many. Improved forecasting of eruptions and improved estimates of the statistical hazard are important research challenges. At Mount Pinatubo volcanologists worked closely with civil authorities. A monitoring and alert network led to evacuations that saved lives. As demonstrated by research at Mount St. Helens, seismic and geodetic observations provide sub-

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    stantial warnings of impending eruptions. However, they cannot predict the severity of eruptions, so it is difficult to make evacuation plans. By quantifying the magnitude of eruptions in the geological record, it will be possible to improve estimates of the likelihood and styles of future eruptions.

    Groundwater contaminated by nuclear and chemical waste represents a growing hazard. Research is growing, too, but it is not clear that the full expertise of the solid-earth science community is being involved on a large enough scale.

    The potential health hazards of such materials as asbestos and radon need to be evaluated in terms of levels of acceptable risk, taking into account the expertise of mineralogists and other appropriate scientists. There is a risk that legislation based on extrapolation of unreliable data could place large (and avoidable) financial burdens on the country. This is given high-priority in Priority Theme D, the environment.

    There is a small but real possibility that an asteroid or comet could strike the Earth in the next century. Anything larger than the small objects that fall as meteorites could cause substantial damage, and a larger body could generate a global catastrophe.

    Top-Priority, Theme C: Define and Characterize Regions of Seismic Hazard

    Hazard reduction requires better understanding of where and how earthquakes occur. Progress toward predicting when they are likely to occur emerges from this understanding.

    The establishment of two NSF-supported technology centers, one in earthquake research and the other in earthquake engineering research, the development of the NEHRP program, and a variety of other activities following the Loma Prieta earthquake have helped to bring seismic hazard activity to the forefront. New ideas are emerging that challenge some of the old assumptions about the very mechanisms by which earthquakes originate and propagate, particularly the role of chaotic behavior in the seismic cycle. At the same time, our experience in the probabilistic assessment of seismic risk is growing. There is a growing need for integrated approaches, including seismic networks, space geodesy, geology, neotectonics, and paleoseismology. Paleoseismology has a special need for the excavation of trenches across fault zones to characterize past seismic activity.

    Other High Priorities

    For Priority Theme C Table 7.12 lists two high-priority research areas: defining and characterizing areas of landslide hazard and defining and characterizing potential volcanic hazard; both are considered in Chapter 5. Landslide hazards arise from the association, in a small area, of a variety of phenomena such as steep slopes, wet conditions, and weak surficial rocks. Understandably, the integration of disparate data using geographic information systems has been found useful. The distribution and timing of ancient landslides can be an important guide to the hazard, and this information is also important for understanding aspects of past global change.

    Volcano hazard research has been stimulated by the occurrence first of the Mount St. Helens explosive events, by the substantial loss of life at Nevada de la Ruiz, and the destruction resulting from Mount Pinatubo. Volcanologists are beginning to make excellent and informed use of the opportunities provided by these and other events to focus their efforts in the directions most useful to society.

    Programs and Infrastructure

    Federal agencies are actively involved today in assessing these geological hazards. The USGS, the NSF (both the Division of Earth Sciences and the Directorate for Engineering), FEMA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have lead roles in NEHRP and represent a national commitment in this direction. Other agencies, such as DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, have mission-oriented roles in seismic hazard analyses. The existence of the two NSF centers related to earthquake studies is a good indication of the importance the federal government attaches to such hazards.

    National and regional seismic networks, with real-time monitoring capabilities where appropriate, are needed. Seismotectonic regionalization is not yet adequate and should be improved using seismic, strong-motion, and paleoseismic (especially trenching) techniques.

    Priority Theme D: To Minimize and Adjust to the Effects of Global and Environmental Changes

    The aim of the last priority theme is to mitigate and remediate the adverse effects produced by

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    global changes and those changes resulting from modification of the environment by human beings.

    To predict continued environmental changes and their effects on the biosphere, we need as a historical perspective the results of new and continuing studies on the reconstruction of global warming trends and other atmospheric/hydroshereric changes, as determined from geochemical cycles, paleoclimatology, evolution of life, and extinctions.

    The scientific background for this objective is covered mainly in Chapter 3, with some applications to global change appearing in Chapter 5. Global change is popularly associated with change in climate, but scientists recognize broader implications, extending to such phenomena as sea level, groundwater quality, and biodiversity. The record of the past is vital to an understanding of global change. We need to be able to characterize variability within the past record and to identify the causes of that variability as well as to understand system states very different from those of today. System transitions, especially abrupt ones, have much to teach us.

    The past is also particularly useful for testing the credibility of new climatic models. If they cannot reproduce what has already occurred, their ability to predict conditions in the future is likely to be limited.

    The influence of volcanism on climate has been documented, although its contribution to global extinctions is still debated. The implications of a massive ash eruption for climate change and agriculture may be a serious threat to global habitability, but the frequency of such eruptions is low.

    The role of orbital variation in modifying temperature at the surface over the past few hundred thousand years has been demonstrated by geologists studying a deep-sea core from the Indian Ocean. Awareness is growing that extraterrestrial influence might be discerned operating in much of the earth system.

    The intensity of the magnetic field has varied by more than 10 percent in the past few hundred years, and there is some evidence that much larger changes in intensity accompany episodes of magnetic reversal. Very little is known, or even guessed, about whether and how magnetic-field variation might affect the environment, especially living plants and animals, but research is warranted.

    Pollution of groundwater in a variety of ways is a major and costly problem in many areas, and it is evident that humans are polluting these water resources at an ever-increasing rate. Research is growing, too, but it is not clear that the full expertise of the solid-earth science community is being involved on a large enough scale.

    Top Priority, Theme D: Develop the Ability to Remediate Polluted Groundwater

    The need, the opportunity, the potential for success, and the scientific challenge represented by thorough understanding of the environment and how polluted groundwater might be remediated, particularly with microbial methods.

    Large and increasing quantities of organic waste material occupy unconfined areas in the United States, both at the surface and underground, including groundwater. Removal of these materials from their present sites is becoming increasingly difficult, and the need for in situ modification is clear. Research into such activities as breeding and using specialized microorganisms to modify and render harmless organic waste materials in a broad range of environments is needed and offers a unique challenge. The subsurface science programs of DOE and EPA represent prominent initiatives in this field.

    Other High Priorities

    Two other high-priorities for Theme D are listed in Table 7.13. The first is related to the top-priority selection in the sense that secure isolation of toxic and radioactive wastes will in the future reduce the pollution of water supplies. Microbiological techniques may be used here as well, but the immediate need is to characterize geologically secure repository sites and to determine how most efficiently to convert nuclear waste into solid glass and ceramic materials. The second topic represents an opportunity for multidisciplinary research into the health risks of some minerals and elements; with proper characterization of the geological materials

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    TABLE 7.13 Priority Theme D: To Minimize and Adjust to the Effects of Global and Environmental Change

    Aim: To mitigate and remediate the adverse effects produced by global changes and those changes resulting from modification of the environment by human beings.

    Top-Priority Selection

    Develop the Ability to Remediate Polluted Groundwater, Emphasizing Microbial Methods

    The need, the opportunity, the potential for success, and the scientific challenge represented by thorough understanding of the environment and how polluted groundwater might be remediated.

    Research into breeding and using specialized microorganisms to modify and render harmless organic waste materials in a broad range of environments is needed. The opportunity, the potential for success, and the scientific challenge represented by thorough understanding of the environment in which the microorganisms are to work.

    Other High-Priorities

    Secure the isolation of toxic and radioactive waste from household, industrial, nuclear plant, mining, milling, and in situ leaching sources

    Microbiological techniques; characterization of sites especially for water distribution and flow; metal recovery and recycling from waste; conversion of nuclear waste into glass and ceramics with additional ceramic casing.

    Geochemistry and human health

    Interdisciplinary research into geochemistry and human health involving the earth sciences, mineralogy, materials science, medical research, public education, and risk evaluation.

    Requirements

    A global data base of present-day surface and shallow near-surface geochemical composition and geological structure as base documentation so that future changes can be directly detected. Advanced analytical and modeling capabilities. Data bases, GIS capabilities.

    Major Relevant Federal Programs

    Programs in EPA, DOE Subsurface Science, USGS, USDA, DOD, NSF.

    State Programs

    State environmental, hydrological, and geological programs.

    Industry

    Much research by industry in this general area.

    International

    International geochemical survey.

    Selected Recent Reports

    NRC: Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (1991), Rethinking Radioactive Waste Isolation (1990), Policy Implications of Global Change (1991).

    Recommendation

    Establish the ability to remediate polluted groundwaters on local and regional scales, emphasizing microbial methods. Coordination of local, industry, state, and federal activities will enhance the potential for success, and international involvement would be desirable.

    and public education, the levels of risk can be weighed with the potential remediation costs. These and other research opportunities are discussed in Chapter 5.

    Programs and Infrastructure

    Numerous current federal, state, industry, and local agency research activities are addressing these problems, and a coordinated attack with international involvement is appropriate. Huge sums of money are spent in research and cleanup by engineering companies dealing with environmental problems. The engineering approaches would be improved in due course by stronger research programs.

    RESEARCH IMPLEMENTATION: FACILITIES, EQUIPMENT, AND DATA NEEDS

    For identification of the most pressing needs for instruments and the infrastructure in general, the strategy is, first, to determine the most important scientific issues. Priorities are then set by considering what resources need to be allocated to address the scientific problems. Some facilities and instruments are essential for several different scientific problems, and priority among these depends not only on how many problems can be addressed but also on which scientific issues are considered to be most important.

    Significant physical facilities are needed in several

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    phases of research programs, to pursue exploration, to gather data, to evaluate the data, and to model the systems. Equipment ranges from large platforms (e.g., space satellites and drilling vessels) through supercomputers, large laboratory experimental equipment (e.g., large-volume, high-pressure apparatus), sensitive analytical instruments (e.g., ion microprobes), a host of smaller laboratory instruments, and field equipment (e.g., seismometers). Computational workstations for individual scientists are becoming a necessity. These facilities constitute the infrastructure of the science. They have been listed with the research opportunities at the ends of Chapters 2 through 5 and are discussed at some length in Chapter 6.

    A summary of the facilities and equipment needed to advance the top-priority research projects in the solid-earth sciences appears in Table 7.14. Six categories are distinguished. Four are related to the locations in which the observing instruments are based: space, aircraft, the Earth's surface, and the sea surface. Laboratory instruments for analysis and experiment constitute the fifth category; the sixth embodies data bases in the broad sense as well as the ability to handle them using geographic information systems and to build models using computers, including the most advanced computational facilities. The research priority themes for which particular facilities and equipment are most relevant are indicated in the table.

    It is critical that the nation develop a scientific infrastructure that is responsive to supporting new discoveries, advanced instrumentation, and intellectual breakthroughs. Only by making relevant field observations, carrying out related laboratory studies, and integrating results in terms of comprehensive global models will we be able to understand the fundamental processes governing the behavior of our planet. The principal objective here is to ensure that solid-earth science is on the leading edge of fundamental research and that it can address public concerns, environmental crises, national requirements, and international responsibilities.

    Space-Based Instruments and Programs

    Satellite-obtained electromagnetic spectral imagery has been widely used by solid-earth scientists since the first Landsat was launched in 1972. The addition of a thematic mapper to later platforms and the advent of the SPOT satellites have both broadened the way in which the imagery can be used. Management of the Landsat program is to be under NASA and the DOD, and the data management activities will be the responsibility of the USGS EROS Data Center. Twenty continuous years of Landsat data are proving to be an important resource for land-surface and hydrologic research. The future of this essential tool for the study of the Earth appears promising, but a history of vicissitudes suggests that it is important for the user community to continue to express its interest in ongoing observation. Future developments are closely linked to the Earth Observing System (EOS). Specific instruments of EOS that are of importance to the solid-earth sciences include the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS), the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), and the High-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (HIRIS). The USGS's EROS Data Center is planned to be linked into the EOS Data and Information System.

    Magnetic fields measured in low Earth orbit integrate the effects of the main core-generated field with temporal variations of the magnetosphere and fields related to magnetic materials in the lithosphere. In very low orbit—below 200 km, for example—fields are strongly influenced by magnetic materials in the lithosphere; measurements at this elevation are relevant to understanding the structure of both the oceanic and continental lithospheres. At higher altitudes—for example, 800 km—the field is less influenced by lithospheric variation and the main field is dominant. The European Space Agency's satellite, ARISTOTELES, which will follow such earlier satellites as NASA's MAGSAT, is planned to orbit sequentially at 200 and 800 km. Ultimately, to monitor the long-term variation of the main field, it will be necessary to maintain magnetometers continu-

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    TABLE 7.14 Facilities and Equipment Needed for Implementation

     

    Relevant Priority Theme

     

    A

    Facility or Equipment and Characteristics to Be Measured

    I

    II

    III

    IV

    V

    B

    C

    D

    Space-Based Instruments and Programs

     

    Electromagnetic spectral imagery: Landsat, SPOT, ASTER, and successors

    -

    Magnetic fields: Main and lithospheric fields: ARISTOTELES and successors

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Gravity: ARISTOTELES and successors

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Altimetry: GEOSAT, TOPEX successors, active space-borne radars

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Geodesy: GPS system, satellite laser ranging, VLBI and successors to all, GLRS

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Surface topography: in sequence—stereo-SPOT, ASTER, laser ranging, microwave interferometry

    Radar mapping: SIR-A, -B, -C

    -

    -

    -

    Aircraft-Based Instruments and Programs

     

    Airborne EM spectral imagery: AVIRIS and related instruments

    -

    -

    Airborne gravity, including gradiometers

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Airborne magnetometry, regional and high-resolution

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Airborne lasers, radar, other airborne geophysical instruments

    -

    -

    Land-Surface-Based Instruments and Programs

     

    Seismic networks: global, national, local, temporary

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Seismic reflection: shallow, conventional, and deep capabilities

    -

    Other surface geophysics: gravity, magnetics, electromagnetic, heat flow

    -

    -

    Surface geochemistry: a data base

    -

    -

    -

    Field geology: specialized methods (e.g., helicopter access), GPS navigation, work in remote areas, and excavation, especially trenching

    Continental drilling: shallow 81 km, deep 1 to 5 km, ultra-deep >5 km

    -

    Sea-Surface-Based Instruments and Facilities

     

    Research vessels: seismic, gravity, magnetic, heat flow and other instruments, side-look and multibeam sonar, dredging and other sampling

    -

    Submersibles: manned and remotely operated

    -

    -

    Ocean drilling capability

    -

    Laboratory Instrumentation and Facilities

     

    Advanced instrumentation for chemical and isotopic analyses of solids, liquids, and gases, including in situ and small-particle analyses

    Access to accelerator and synchroton radiation facilities

    Equipment for very-high-pressure experiments

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

     

    Large-volume, high-pressure instrumentation

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Advanced organic chemical and isotopic analyses

    -

    -

    -

    Data Bases, Maps, and Collections

     

    Global digital topographic data sets for land and sea

    Subsurface data banks: seismic, potential field, bore-hole cores, cuttings, and logs

    Geological and other surface maps

    Physical and chemical properties of earth materials

    -

    -

    Museum curation and storage of fossils, rocks, minerals, rock cores, ice cores, meteorites

    Geographic information system capabilities

    Advanced modeling capabilities and access to advanced computational capabilities

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    ously in orbit. Although it is possible that more magnetometers will be orbited within the decade, attainment of the ideal of continuous measurement remains a challenge.

    Earth's gravity field will be able to be measured by accelerometers mounted on ARISTOTELES. Spatial resolution at an orbit of 210 km will be a few milligals over 100 km. These measurements can be expected to improve understanding of the Earth's structure. However, orbits of less than 200 km and advanced instrumentation, including gravity gradiometers, are required for the kinds of spatial resolution needed to address many problems in the solid-earth sciences.

    Satellite altimetry has proved useful in improving gravity and bathymetric models of the oceans. Higher spatial resolution than is currently available would be very useful. National security considerations have restricted availability, but circumstances are changing, and there is a possibility that within the decade more information may become accessible. More advanced altimetry will become available within the decade from such systems as the joint French-NASA satellite—Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX/POSEIDON), which was launched in August 1992.

    Space geodesy has made staggering advances over the past decade, and the coming decade promises further developments in very-long-baseline interferometry, satellite-laser ranging, and GPS utilization. Dedicated satellite systems for geodesy, which perhaps represent an ideal, are unlikely to be attained within the coming decade.

    Surface topographic data of high spatial resolution both above and below sea level are essential for progress in numerous aspects of the solid-earth sciences. Their availability is very uneven, especially in digital form, and acquisition of better data is both practicable and important. Above-sea level, space-obtained data can be used in a variety of ways. Application of different techniques, from ''Stereo-SPOT" through ASTER-stereo to laser ranging and microwave interferometry, may be needed. The ultimate requirement is a digital data set for the whole Earth with a spatial resolution of a few meters and a vertical resolution of about a meter. This may prove attainable, at least for land areas, within a decade.

    Aircraft-Based Instruments and Programs

    The use of aerial photography in the solid-earth sciences, which dates back more than 60 years, continues to be important. Refinement is continuing; for example, infrared measurements are used in mineral exploration and in the search for geothermal areas. Advanced spectroscopic systems such as NASA's Airborne Visible Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) are proving powerful in research, and further developments are likely in the coming decade.

    Measurement of the local gravitational field of the Earth from the air has been difficult because of the complex and rapidly varying pattern of accelerations imparted to sensors in aircraft. Systems with two or more GPS receivers mounted on an aircraft to give both location and attitude control are potentially capable of solving many problems. With this capability, gravity measurements at high spatial resolution could be obtained for much of the world within the decade. Flights to tie together existing data sets and surveys of new areas are needed. Observations over the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are particularly important because of the inaccessibility of subice rock. Other measurements can be made from the same aircraft at the same time.

    Airborne magnetometry has been important in regional studies and in mineral exploration for most of the past 50 years. High-resolution surveys are being recognized as useful in establishing the structure of the continental basement where it is buried under gently dipping cover; this is an area where growth is likely in the coming decade. A special case is that of the ice sheets of polar regions, where magnetometry can give an unrivaled reconnaissance view of continental structure.

    Other airborne geophysical instruments that are important to the solid-earth sciences include electromagnetic methods and lasers. Improved positioning and attitude control with GPS systems will help to broaden their use. Most airborne geophysical studies are flown at low elevations, and the possible role of robot aircraft in this kind of low-level flight has not been fully explored.

    Land-Surface-Based Instruments and Programs

    Seismometers of various kinds are important for addressing most of the priority themes recognized in this report. The deployment of global networks of very broadband seismometers is an essential step toward understanding the deep interior. The establishment of a global seismic network by the USGS and the IRIS consortium represents a major step in this direction. These groups cooperate with other nations in the Federation of Digital Seismic Net-

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    works. During the first 5 years of the current decade, deployment of over 100 stations should be attained, and comparable progress in data collection and management is expected. Real-time data collection and telemetry are envisaged for a smaller set of stations. Plans for the latter half of the decade include the placing of some seismic stations on the ocean floor; deep deployment is intended for quietness. Global network data contribute to our understanding of the crust and the active processes in the crust and are useful in hazard studies, but national, regional, and local networks of seismometers are also needed for all these purposes. A number of federal, state, and local government agencies are involved in operating networks, and the opportunities for coordinating efforts and developments in such areas as real-time seismology over the decade are great.

    Seismic instruments for temporary deployment can be used in a variety of ways. The IRIS consortium is building up a set of advanced instruments for this purpose. As the decade proceeds and more instruments come into use, more and better experiments should prove feasible. Instruments of comparable sophistication will be needed worldwide.

    Seismic reflection is the most widely used technique in geophysics. In the coming decade its use at shallow depths for problems in resource and environmental understanding is likely to expand; commercial and local government users are likely to be most active. At conventional depths the petroleum industry is likely to continue to lead, and developments such as three-dimensional surveys and advanced processing and data-handling techniques will extend into other communities. Deep-seismic reflection methods are being used in many parts of the world, and during the decade important developments can be expected in its use, both for extending coverage and for advanced acquisition, processing, and analysis.

    Other surface techniques in geophysics are likely to profit from the increasing ability to use several methods in the same area, from improved acquisition, and from better data-handling techniques.

    Surface geochemistry is a developing field. Solid-earth scientists have long known the approximate chemical composition of areas at the surface, but detailed studies have been related to mineral exploration and sometimes to environmental medicine. The new idea is that society needs baseline information on the geochemistry of the surface so that human-accelerated change can be monitored and understood and mitigative and remedial steps can be taken.

    Field geology, the basic endeavor of the solid-earth scientist, is likely to continue to involve many earth scientists. The passage of the National Geological Mapping Act in 1992 (P.L.102-285) shows that the need for this activity is appreciated nationally. Roles for the USGS and state geological surveys are recognized. There are special problems in field geological work in remote areas such as much of Alaska, the Arctic, and the Antarctic as well as parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. The use of modern capabilities such as GPS navigation and the acquisition of field data in digital form should continue to develop during the coming decade. Temporary excavation, which has always played a part in field geology and is now integrated with shallow geophysics, is becoming more prominent, especially in environmental and engineering geology and paleoseismicity studies, as well as in such traditional fields as mineral exploration.

    Continental scientific drilling has developed rapidly in the past decade, and its unique role in solid-earth science research is becoming well defined. Federal government efforts in the United States have responded to the Continental Scientific Drilling and Exploration Act of 1988. An interagency coordinating group (DOE, NSF, USGS) has provided an effective working mechanism in such recent successful programs as those in the Newark Basin and at Creede in Colorado. Planned activities include Katmai and on the island of Hawaii. Internationally there are active programs, especially in Europe (Germany) and the former Soviet Union, and workers from the United States are involved in experiments in some of these and other planned international drilling programs.

    Sea-Surface-Based Instruments and Facilities

    Solid-earth science research at sea is dominated by investigations of the sea bottom and the underlying crust. Although federal, state, local, private, and commercially owned vessels are all active in research, the strength of the federally funded research fleet and of the oceanographic institutions is critical. Specific problem-solving efforts, such as those under the RIDGE initiative, are proving a successful way of integrating research efforts; they make use of many facilities. The new initiative addressing the problems of the margins of the oceans is similar and represents comparable opportunities for research development.

    The use of submersibles and especially of remotely operated vehicles of various kinds is likely to increase during the 1990s. Submarines with scien-

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    tific observers have played a distinctive role in marine geology, geophysics, and geochemistry. The remotely operated vehicle represents a capability as yet largely unproven.

    The Ocean Drilling Program and its predecessors have contributed as much as any facility to the rapid development of the solid-earth sciences over the past 25 years. The current program is planned through 1998. A recent NRC review of the program recognizes the scientific value of continued ocean drilling and recommends broadening participation, ensuring breadth in future activities, and focusing on the establishment of "a highly accurate geochronologic framework for studies of past ocean processes and rates as well as for an optimum approach to drilling technology."

    Laboratory Instrumentation and Facilities

    The development and use of advanced instruments are critical to the solid-earth sciences. The need for such instrumentation and facilities extends to every one of the priority themes developed in this report. Specialized needs have been defined throughout the report in tables and in the text. A 1990 report by the NRC Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, Facilities for Earth Materials Research, addressed community needs by identifying two distinct levels of implementation: one ("Schedule A") incorporates initiatives justified by present technology, manpower, and demand, and the other ("Schedule B") defines a minimum level below which research on some topics cannot be carried out at an internationally competitive level. This approach is potentially useful to those involved in implementing recommendations, and a similar approach might be extended to other areas treated in this report.

    Advanced instruments for chemical and isotopic analyses of the compositions of naturally occurring solids, liquids, and gases are all needed. The earth sciences have particular requirements for determining compositions at small sites within materials (e.g., at several places in a microscopically zoned crystal), as well as compositions of tiny particles (e.g., stratospheric dust from volcanoes). Modern beam instruments are well adapted for these purposes, and future developments are likely.

    Access to accelerator and synchrotron facilities will be increasingly important as their capabilities for analytical purposes become better developed and more widely appreciated in the solid-earth science community. These issues are thoroughly discussed in the Facilities for Earth Materials Research report, but it is clear that implementation of the recommendations of the present report could have implications for the way in which facilities are used. For example, increased emphasis on the geology of the past 2.5-million-years, which is recommended in this report, requires more dating by cosmogenic nuclide measurement. Developments of this kind could put a strain on existing facilities for accelerator mass spectroscopy.

    Equipment for very-high-pressure experimentation will be extremely valuable. The ability to generate in the laboratory pressures and conditions as great as those obtained at the center of the Earth has been a significant development in the past decade. The need for the coming decade is to conduct a range of experiments that fully exploit the new capabilities represented by such instruments as diamond cells and to use those capabilities together with other forms of advanced instrumentation.

    Large-volume, high-pressure instrumentation also is necessary. The ability to simulate conditions of the deepest crust and upper mantle in "large" volumes (greater than about 1 mm3), which has been developed only in the past decade, opens up the opportunities for expanded experimental activity.

    There is a growing need in the solid-earth sciences for advanced organic chemical and isotopic analyses. The study of organic geochemistry has been stimulated by such diverse interests as working out the origin and evolution of petroleum and understanding the preservation of ancient DNA. The importance of organic composition and structure in interpreting ancient environments, both at the surface and after burial, is a field that is developing fast enough for it to be singled out from among other laboratory instrumentation and facility considerations.

    Data Collection and Storage

    The most striking progress in the solid-earth sciences may be in the development and use of data bases. Arrays of large and diverse sets of basic research data are important for all research areas, including modern maps representing three-dimensional data bases collating geological, geophysical, geochemical, geochronological, geotechnical, and geobiological data. The data accrue too rapidly for convenient storage in hard copy, and geographic information systems must be brought into widespread use for display and analysis of these data. For much research, access to data on material and thermodynamic properties, reaction kinetics, and the

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    nature of fluid-rock interactions (physical, chemical, and biological) is important. Hierarchical computational capabilities, with constant general use of relatively simple systems and access to progressively more complicated and advanced facilities, will be needed both for data handling and model construction and testing. Advanced instruments, themselves, require advanced computational capabilities.

    In addition to collections of data, there are collections of materials that must be preserved and made available for research when needed. At a time when many geologically important localities are being overtaken by urban development and private lands or are being exhausted through mining activities, the archival curation of important collections of fossils, minerals, rocks, and ores is an increasingly important aspect of the earth sciences. There is a need to evaluate the collections of subsurface samples recovered from drill cores, for example, because these samples were collected at significant expense and, from an economic perspective, can be considered unique. However, as the resource industries abandon areas of active exploration, samples and records are being discarded because curation costs would be prohibitive. The need for such information is important for both scientific and applied reasons-for instance, such samples could lead to the refined understanding of reservoir heterogeneity needed for enhanced hydrocarbon recovery activities. Major national museums such as the Smithsonian Institution have become one of the important elements in the curation of a limited amount of these materials. In addition to terrestrial materials, there are unique collections of lunar rocks and meteorites that yield progressively more secrets about their inaccessible sources as time passes and instrumental techniques are improved. Other materials that need proper curating are the ice cores drilled from Antarctica and other ice sheets and the huge library of deep-sea cores.

    A large proportion of the information that is important for implementation of the priority areas identified in this report is spatial. Maps present a peculiar problem, although perhaps only a temporary one. Existing geological maps, for example, embody a huge potential resource. Although optical scanners can be used to digitize information from maps, the procedure is not yet very reliable, and inordinate amounts of time-consuming verification and attribute coding are demanded. A simple distinction can therefore be made between acquisition of data in digital form and digitizing existing data sets. The coming decade will perhaps be one of transition. That transition is likely to require substantial resource commitment, one that is concomitant with the need.

    Global digital topographic data sets were discussed in the section on space-based facilities. Access to that kind of high-resolution topographic data and the ability to manipulate them are likely to prove important mainly because so much solid-earth data needs to be interpreted with topographic control.

    There are large data bases of subsurface information, including seismic reflection data, well-log data, and core and well-cutting collections, as well as detailed gravity and magnetic data, all of which are relevant to the properties of the relatively shallow subsurface. In the United States the use of some of these data sets is confined to those involved in oil and gas exploration, since they are privately owned. Other sets are under the care of state and federal agencies and are in the public domain. Digitization, remote access, and the question of broadening use are important considerations, as are preservation, quality control, and other curatorial matters.

    Geological maps and other maps of surface and near-surface properties are essential in the study of the solid-earth. The issue of making and updating maps was considered earlier, but there is a linked question of publication, data storage, access, and availability. The USGS and various state agencies are active in addressing these issues, as identified by the National Geological Mapping Act (P.L.102-285). Compatibility and standardization are likely to remain important. Worldwide opportunities, such as access to maps of the former Soviet Union, which up to now have been secret or hard to obtain, could provide occasion to apply the lessons learned in domestic efforts.

    Museum curation and storage of fossils, rocks, minerals, rock cores, rock cuttings, ice cores, and meteorites are a growing concern. Because of the value of the materials, their unique character, or the huge replacement cost, they must be stored not only where they are accessible for research but where scholars who appreciate their special value (e.g., taxonomists) can supervise preservation. Local, state, national, and even global considerations (only two nations have collected rocks on the moon, but researchers from many nations have been able to work on lunar materials) are involved. Opportunities for improving curatorial facilities are likely to provide a focus—and escalating costs to provide a challenge.

    A paleontological data base is desperately needed. Hard-copy documentation of the fossil record has

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    reached a triumphal peak in the successive editions of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Researchers now need computer access to the kinds of basic information found in the treatise about duration of existence of a life form, geographical distribution, and much more. The ability to manipulate large data bases can be expected to reveal a great deal about how life has evolved; this is currently an almost indigestible mass of information. This specific data set is singled out here not only as an example of the kind of data base that can be put together from existing material but because it has unique potential for improving our understanding of the history of life.

    Data bases covering the physics and chemistry of earth materials also are needed. Hard-copy editions of The Data of Geochemistry have been published by the USGS at intervals over the past 70 years, and the Geological Society of America has published an important handbook of physical constraints. An accessible data base that included, for example, material properties, thermodynamic data, kinetic data, and fluid-rock interaction data would significantly assist researchers.

    Geographic information systems, which are widely used in land and environmental management, are relevant to all of the committee's priority themes. There will be greater use in areas where such systems are already important, as well as broad extension of their use through much of the solid-earth sciences. Advances in data-handling capability, standardization, and easy (often on-line) access to data bases are needed.

    Advanced modeling capabilities and access to advanced computational facilities will complement both the data uses outlined above and the measurement needs discussed earlier. Singling out those fields in which effort will yield the most results in the coming decades is difficult. It is easier to note where activity has been great already because these are clearly promising areas for future success. Processing seismic data generated in oil and gas exploration has long been a leading computational activity, and the demands of modern three-dimensional surveys are particularly challenging. The teleseismic data of global seismic networks is now being processed to generate tomographic images of the mantle, and computational models of mantle flow can be compared with the seismic-derived images. At the other end of the spatial scale, modeling of crystal structures from ab initio calculations is a successful field likely to be more widely applied in the solid-earth sciences. Geochemical modeling, especially advances on the "box models" of early geochemical cycle studies, is likely to prove fruitful. Paleoenvironmental models, especially where they attempt to accommodate oceanic and atmospheric circulation, are both challenging and likely to become more important. There are clearly opportunities for the greater involvement of solid-earth scientists in aspects of all four subcomponents of the federal government's initiative in high-performance computing systems.

    FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF PRIORITY RESEARCH

    Current Agency Expenditures

    The federal funding levels for fiscal year 1990 have been categorized based on the Research Framework; detailed information on the trends is given in Appendix A. Because of the diversity of agencies and accounting methods, there is some uncertainty about what matrix box is most appropriate for some of the research funds, but the broad picture is valid. Table 7.15 summarizes research allocations among the eight priority themes and illustrates the range of support from federal agencies, state programs, and international activities. A glance at Appendix A, where details of the financial survey are given, will illustrate the difficulty of extracting this information from the different reporting formats of the various agencies. Nevertheless, this table provides a fair picture of the distribution of research support among the areas of the Research Framework and shows fields of concentration by the different agencies.

    The total research expenditure for fiscal year 1990 is estimated to be $1.368 billion. This includes $153.5 million for infrastructure and education but does not include a share of the basic operating costs of DOE's national laboratories.

    Within the Research Framework, the greatest percentage of support is in the sustenance of resources (Objective B; areas II, III, and IV). If some of the support in this category (e.g., soil studies, cartography, bathymetry) were to be considered peripheral to the solid-earth sciences, crustal dynamics (objectives A and B; IV) would assume the "lead" position.

    Industry Support of University Research

    The petroleum industry has traditionally supported hydrocarbon research that involves theoretical and, more particularly, applied geology, geo-

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    TABLE 7.15 Approximate Percentages of Expenditures Keyed to the Research Framework of the Federal Agencies for Fiscal Year 1990a

     

    Objectives

    Research Areas

    A. Understand Processes

    B. Sustain Sufficient Resources—Water, Minerals, Fuels

    C. Mitigate Geological Hazards—Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Landslides

    D. Minimize Global and Environmental Change—Assess, Mitigate, Remediate

    I. Global Paleoenvironments and Biological Evolution

    2

    < 1

    <1

    1

    II. Global Geochemical and Biogeochemical Cycles

    4

    20

    1

    III. Fluids in and on the Earth

    2

    12

    <1

    3

    IV. Crustal Dynamics: Ocean and Continent

    19

    22

    4

    6

    V. Core and Mantle Dynamics

    4

    <1

     

    a  

    One percent of the total of $1,368 million is about $13 million (see Appendix A).

    physics, and geochemistry. Likewise, so has the mining industry. It is hard to assign a meaningful dollar cost to all this research. A rough guide might be this: the seismic-exploration industry worldwide is expected to rise to about $5 billion by the mid-1990s. If about 1 percent of this sum goes to related earth science research, industry support would be about $50 million. Other estimates indicate that $100 million to $275 million is expended annually on oil and gas research in the United States in both the public and the private sectors. Although most of the research is in-house, both mining and petroleum industries historically have supported research projects conducted in university departments and have collaborated in research with federal agencies (e.g., Bureau of Mines and DOE).

    Mining industry support of university research typically involves funding graduate-student field or laboratory work, summer or interim employment of graduate students, consulting arrangements with faculty, and direct grants. During the fiscal decline of the mining industry in the early and mid-1980s, this support diminished considerably as companies cut back on research and exploration activities and on geoscientific personnel. In recent years a growing proportion of the supported research has been in the area of low-temperature, heavy metal geochemistry—a reflection of concern about waste management. At the same time, support for basic research in ore-forming processes and igneous petrology has declined.

    The petroleum industry currently supports university research through granting foundations in the form of doctoral and master's fellowships, direct faculty support, and grants for equipment and laboratories. At the same time, many companies are providing support directly through their research and operating subsidiaries, either through membership in industrial consortia or direct funding of research by faculty and students. Additional research funding is handled by trade associations, such as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Gas Association. The industry-supported Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society has played an important role for decades. A wide variety of university programs have been encouraged through these means, ranging from basic research in petrology, paleontology, and sedimentology to technologies for reservoir characterization, enhanced oil recovery, and seismic signal processing. Petroleum industry support of environmental research is growing. Particular emphasis is being placed on disposal of solid and liquid wastes and groundwater management.

    The main thrust of oil and gas company research is naturally toward the development of technology and science that may be directly applied to exploration for and development of oil and gas. If an application cannot be defined, support for a research project is unlikely to be granted. It should be noted, however, that a surprising number of research programs pursued by industry have led to significant bodies of fundamental knowledge that in turn have

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    supported societal endeavors quite apart from the search for energy resources.

    Suggestions for Future Funding

    Although the course of events in future years can be assessed only very generally, in terms of both level of support and its fluctuation, it is clear that federal funding is substantial in relation to all of the committee's priority themes. Programs are commonly—but not always—related to a particular discipline or technique (e.g., drilling) and are often related to several priority themes. Only the activities related to the major mission of the Earth Observing System (EOS) lend themselves to crude representation of funding-time scenarios (funding wedges), and these generally show an upswing when the EOS will be getting under way.

    One question to ask is whether specific recommendations—for example, the eight top-priority recommendations of this report—are addressed by the mix of programs under way and envisaged by the federal agencies. To a considerable extent, the answer is clearly yes. For example, understanding the history of the past 2.5-million-years requires advanced analytical facilities, ocean drilling, Landsat and related data, geological mapping, advanced data management, and access to supercomputing. Understanding that history will increase our knowledge of the origin and nature of the surficial deposits and of the recorded environmental and hydrological history over that interval. This is exactly the kind of understanding needed for developing sound waste isolation practices.

    There is need for a more detailed assessment of the extent to which the priority themes identified in this report will be addressed in federal programs in the coming decade. Questions that could be asked include the following: Are the planned activities of the various agencies adequate? Are they complementary? Is there duplication? Are international activities integrated with those of the United States? Are there significant pieces missing? What activities are most timely? These programmatic questions are best addressed from within because the detailed information they require is usually available only for the past, not the future, and is difficult for outsiders to interpret. This report provides a background that explains why particular scientific questions have been accorded priority within the solid-earth science community. Earlier in this chapter, under the heading Planning and Decision Making, it was shown that there are broadly based mechanisms in place within the federal government for going the necessary step further: assessing at the interagency and program level such issues as whether the priority questions are being addressed, whether a better job could be done by allocating existing resources differently, or whether additional resources are needed.

    RECOMMENDATIONS

    Recommendations for action in areas affecting the solid-earth sciences—education, research support, and the national approach to both—are presented below. The committee's over-arching recommendation, which is basic to all its other suggestions, is that the United States make a commitment to earth system science. Knowledge of the interrelationships among the solid-earth, its fluid envelopes, and the biosphere is crucial to humankind's continued well-being.

    Education Recommendations

    The continued vitality of the solid-earth sciences is critically dependent on a continuous supply of well-prepared geoscientists. Chapter 6 presents a number of recommendations for actions to be taken at the graduate, undergraduate, and secondary-school levels. Three recommendations for college curricula merit special attention:

    EDUCATION RECOMMENDATION 1: Conventional disciplinary courses should be supplemented with more comprehensive courses in earth system science. Such courses should emphasize the whole Earth, interrelationships and feedback processes, and the involvement of the biosphere in geochemical cycles.

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    EDUCATION RECOMMENDATION 2: New courses need to be developed to prepare students for growth in both employment and research opportunities in areas such as hydrology, land use, engineering geology, environmental and urban geology, and waste disposal. Such courses will be necessary to prepare students for changing careers in the extractive industries and environmental areas of the earth sciences. No longer are these two areas separate, as mineral and energy resources need to be exploited in environmentally sound ways.

    EDUCATION RECOMMENDATION 3: Colleges and universities should explore new educational opportunities (at both the undergraduate and graduate levels) that bridge the needs of earth science and engineering departments. This need arises from the growth of problems related to land use, urban geology, environmental geology and engineering, and waste disposal. The convergence of interests and research is striking, and the classical subject of "engineering geology" could become a significant redefined area of critical importance for society.

    Research Recommendations

    As mentioned earlier, the committee discovered a remarkable degree of consensus when it selected the top-priority research area for each of the priority themes. The eight top-priority research recommendations are listed below (and summarized in Table 7.5). Each has two high-priority research recommendations associated with it under the same priority theme. In many cases they were strong contenders for the top-priority position, and the choice was difficult. The high-priority selections are given below the top-priority selections.

    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 1 (Priority Theme I): There should be a coordinated thrust at understanding how the Earth's environment and biology have changed in the past 2.5-million-years. The current research activities of many federal agencies bear on this issue, and international involvement would be appropriate as well.

    High-priority topics are:

    • to work out the environmental and biological changes that have taken place over the past 150-million-years, since the oldest preserved oceans began to evolve and

    • to explore environmental and biological changes prior to 150-million-years ago.

    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 2 (Priority Theme II): The earth sciences need to establish how global geochemical cycles have operated through time. This information, which is essential to working out how the earth system operates, is now a realistic target that could be achieved by coordinating a number of federal programs and current national and international activities.

    High-priority topics are:

    • to construct models of the interaction between biogeochemical cycles and the solid-earth and climatic cycles and

    • to establish how geochemical cycles operate in the modern world.

    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 3 (Priority Theme III): The earth sciences need to take up the challenge of investigating the three-

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    dimensional distribution of fluid pressure and fluid composition in the Earth's crust. The instrumental, observational, and modeling capabilities that exist within various federal programs can be effectively focused on this problem. International coordination is important.

    High-priority topics are:

    • to model fluid flow in sedimentary basins and

    • to improve understanding of microbial influences on fluid chemistry, particularly groundwater.

    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 4 (Priority Theme IV): There should be coordinated and intensified efforts to understand active crustal deformation. The opportunity exists to revolutionize current knowledge of this area, which is vital not only to the solid-earth sciences but also to the missions of several federal agencies and various state and international bodies.

    High-priority topics are:

    • to explore landform responses to climatic, tectonic, and hydrologic events and

    • to increase comprehension of crustal evolution.

    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 5 (Priority Theme V): An integrated attack on solving the problem of understanding mantle convection needs to be mounted. Seismic networks, satellite data, high-pressure experiments, magnetic observatories, geochemistry, drilling, and computational modeling can all be marshaled into the fray. Again, federal, national, and international organizations will be involved.

    High-priority topics are:

    • to establish the origin and temporal variation of the Earth's internally generated magnetic field and

    • to determine the nature of the core-mantle boundary.

    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 6 (Priority Theme B): A dense network of water quality and quantity measurements, including resampling at appropriate intervals, should be established as a basis for scientific advances. Coordination of federal and state agencies that have programs in the field will be needed.

    High-priority topics are:

    • sedimentary basin research, particularly for improved resource recovery;

    • improvement of thermodynamic and kinetic understanding of water-rock interaction and mineral-water interface geochemistry; and

    • development of energy and mineral exploration, production, and assessment strategies.

    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 7 (Priority Theme C): There should be an effort to define and characterize regions of seismic hazard. Because many people and much property in the United States are endangered by earthquakes, improved understanding of seismic occurrences is a pressing need. This issue is important to the missions of several federal agencies and to organizations ranging from local to international.

    High-priority topics are:

    • to define and characterize areas of landslide hazard and

    • to define and characterize potential volcanic hazards.

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
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    RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION 8 (Priority Theme D): The earth sciences need to develop the ability to remediate polluted groundwater on both local and regional scales, emphasizing microbial methods. Coordination of local, industry, state, and federal activities will enhance the potential for success, and international involvement would be desirable.

    High-priority topics are:

    • to secure the isolation of toxic and radioactive waste from household, industrial, nuclear plant, mining, milling, and in situ leaching sources and

    • to investigate the relationship between geochemistry and human health.

    General Recommendations

    Recommended priorities for research will need to be developed within the existing complex structure in which federal agencies, most with highly specific missions, interact with universities, with industry, and with each other. These groups should also be interacting with professional societies, state and local agencies, other nations, and international organizations. The series of recommendations that follow is intended to provide guidance for the diverse communities involved in research and practice in the solid-earth sciences in the coming decade.

    The study of the whole earth system is essential for the solution of global problems.

    RECOMMENDATION 1. There should be a major commitment to earth system science, emphasizing interrelationships among all parts of the Earth. The recommended commitment should be akin to the space missions that have revolutionized our understanding of other planets in the past two decades. We are able for the first time to recognize the features associated with the internal evolution of our planet, the actual heterogeneities that drive the geological processes of the Earth. Thus, we are at the threshold of a new and fundamental understanding of global geological phenomena. To be effective, any "Mission to Planet Earth" must be a visionary and broad-ranging study of our entire planet, from core to crust. At least four elements are widely recognized as being crucial to this program: (1) the need for global observations, including those based on space technologies and international collaborations; (2) the development and application of novel instrumentation; (3) the utilization of new computer technologies; and (4) a commitment to support advanced training.

    Individual science is innovative science.

    RECOMMENDATION 2. High-priority should continue to be given to the best proposals from individual investigators. The intellectual resources represented by members of the scientific community are our most valuable asset. The U.S. scientific and industrial population may receive less support in some areas than our international competitors, but it does not suffer from lack of imagination. Core support for individual investigators is the best way to ensure that the diversity

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    in ideas and approaches that is at the root of American inventiveness remains a strong feature of the U.S. Effort.

    New instrumentation offers unparalleled opportunities for acquiring information about the Earth.

    RECOMMENDATION 3. The newest tools for data acquisition need to be made available for use in earth science research. Advanced instrumentation is urgently needed for experiment and analysis in the laboratory and for deployment in space (on satellites), at sea (on research vessels and on the sea bottom), in aircraft, and on land (in networks and in boreholes and movable arrays).

    Observations and measurements made from space will inspire new concepts and Earth models.

    RECOMMENDATION 4. The opportunities for the integration and use of observations and measurements from advanced space-borne instruments in solid-earth geophysics and geology should continue to be made available. The opportunity for increased understanding of the continents using an integrated approach with remote sensing, field, laboratory, and other data (e.g., seismic) is extraordinary. Remote sensing data should be incorporated and used as a standard field geology tool throughout the undergraduate curriculum and especially in field geology courses. At the graduate level, research should address geological problems aided by remote sensing methods rather than consider remote sensing as a separate discipline.

    The vast amounts of earth data on hand, together with the new data that will be acquired, must be made available to all.

    RECOMMENDATION 5. There is an essential need for the production and availability of interactive data banks on a national level within the earth sciences. With new methods of digital acquisition, handling, and archiving, and with growth in the use of geographic information systems along with the Global Positioning System, there are major opportunities to apply the computer revolution to the solid-earth sciences. It is time to integrate the vast amounts of solid-earth science data in nondigital form, like maps, with the exponentially growing digital data sets. National coordination of data-handling services, retrieval procedures, networking, and dissemination practices is required to improve access to the wealth of data held by government, industry, and academic organizations. This will ensure the best use of data in understanding the Earth, sustaining resources, mitigating hazards, and adjusting to environmental change.

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    Understanding of earth systems is essential for sustainable development of the world.

    RECOMMENDATION 6. Efforts need to be made to expand earth science education to all. All citizens need to understand the earth system to make responsible decisions about use of resources, avoidance of natural hazards, and maintenance of the Earth as a habitat. Public school systems must respond to this need. At the university level curricula should be adjusted to meet the needs of contemporary society while maintaining excellence at the professional level.

    The cooperation of industry, academia, and government in supporting research will have a synergistic effect.

    RECOMMENDATION 7. Research partnerships involving industry-academia-government are encouraged to maximize our understanding of the Earth. Cooperative multidisciplinary investigations that pool intellectual resources residing in government, academic, and industrial sectors can produce more comprehensive research efforts. The primary objectives of the government, industry, and academic groups are diverse. The breadth of disciplines that collectively exist within groups spans our science, but each has its own primary research objectives. Each sector has much expertise to offer that would make it possible to capitalize on the complementary nature of collaboration. The solid-earth sciences stand to gain immeasurably if these three major research groups establish forward-looking cooperative programs.

    International scientific cooperation is needed to further understanding of global earth systems.

    RECOMMENDATION 8. Increased U.S. involvement in international cooperative projects in the solid-earth sciences and data exchange is essential. The solid-earth sciences are an intrinsically international undertaking. Increased understanding of the Earth as a system requires that regional problems be looked at from an international perspective. Cooperative programs involving both nongovernmental international science programs and individuals should be strengthened. Groups involved in U.S. foreign policy decisions should be aware of the importance of the earth sciences in global agreements about issues such as waste management, acid rain, hazard reduction, energy and mineral resources, and desertification. Cooperation between the West, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe presents a timely opportunity for U.S. scientists to join with scientists from those countries in data collection and data sharing to increase knowledge of global earth systems. Such cooperation with other countries can be an important tool in U.S. foreign policy.

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    BIBLIOGRAPHY

    NRC Reports

    NRC (1983). Opportunities for Research in the Geological Sciences, Committee on Opportunities for Research in the Geological Sciences, Board on Earth Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 95 pp.

    NRC (1983). Research Briefings 1983, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

    NRC (1986). Studies in Geophysics—Active Tectonics, Geophysics Study Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 266 pp.

    NRC (1986). Global Change in the Geosphere-Biosphere: Initial Priorities for an IGBP, U.S. Committee for an International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 91 pp.

    NRC (1987). Earth Materials Research: Report of a Workshop on Physics and Chemistry of Earth Materials, Committee on Physics and Chemistry of Earth Materials, Board on Earth Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 122 pp.

    NRC (1987). International Role of U.S. Geoscience, Committee on Global and International Geology, Board on Earth Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 95 pp.

    NRC (1988). Space Science in the Twenty-First Century: Imperatives for the Decades 1995 to 2015: Mission to Planet Earth, Task Group on Earth Sciences, Space Science Board, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 121 pp.

    NRC (1988). The Mid-Oceanic Ridge: A Dynamic Global System, Ocean Studies Board, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 351 pp.

    NRC (1989). Margins: A Research Initiative for Interdisciplinary Studies of Processes Attending Lithospheric Extension and Convergence , Ocean Studies Board, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 285 pp.

    NRC (1989). Volcanic Studies at Katmai, U.S. Geodynamics Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 9 pp.

    NRC (1990). Facilities for Earth Materials Research, U.S. Geodynamics Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 62 pp.

    NRC (1990). Assessing the Nation's Earthquakes: The Health and Future of Regional Seismograph Networks, Committee on Seismology, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 67 pp.

    NRC (1990). Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program, Mapping Science Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 78 pp.

    NRC (1990). Geodesy in the Year 2000, Committee on Geodesy, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 176 pp.

    NRC (1990). Rethinking High-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal: A Position Statement of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management, Board on Radioactive Waste Management, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 38 pp.

    NRC (1990). A Review of the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Pilot Program, Water Science and Technology Board, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 153 pp.

    NRC (1990). Studies in Geophysics—The Role of Fluids in Crustal Processes , Geophysics Study Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 170 pp.

    NRC (1990). Studies in Geophysics—Sea Level Change, Geophysics Study Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 234 pp.

    NRC (1990). Research Strategies for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, U.S. National Committee for the IGBP, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 291 pp.

    NRC (1990). A Safer Future: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters , U.S. National Committee for the Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 67 pp.

    NRC (1991). Solving the Global Change Puzzle: A U.S. Strategy for Managing Data and Information, Committee on Geophysical Data, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 52 pp.

    NRC (1991). International Global Network of Fiducial Stations: Scientific and Implementation Issues, Committee on Geodesy, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 129 pp.

    NRC (1991). Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 127 pp.

    NRC (1991). Opportunities in Hydrology, Committee on Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences, Water Science and Technology Board, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 348 pp.

    NRC (1991). Real-Time Earthquake Monitoring: Early Warning and Rapid Response, Committee on Seismology, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 52 pp.

    NRC (1992). Oceanography in the Next Decade: Building New Partnerships Ocean Studies Board, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 201 pp.

    NRC (1992). A Review of the Ocean Drilling Program: Long-Range Plan , Ocean Studies Board, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 13 pp.

    NRC (1993). Toward a Coordinated Spatial Data Infrastructure for the Nation, Mapping Science Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

    NRC (1993). Geomagnetic Initiative: The Global Magnetic Environment—Challenges and Opportunities, U.S. Geodynamics Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

    NRC (1993). Studies in Geophysics—Global Surficial Geofluxes, Geophysics Study Committee, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

    Other Reports

    Hanks, Thomas C. (1985). The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program—Scientific Status, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1659, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 40 pp.

    NASA (1987). From Pattern to Process: The Strategy of the Earth Observing System, EOS Science Steering Committee, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., 140 pp.

    ACES (1988). A Unified Theory of Planet Earth: A Strategic Overview and Long Range Plan for the Division of Earth Sciences, Advisory Committee for Earth Sciences, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C., 48 pp.

    ESSC (1988). Earth System Science: A Program for Global Change, Earth Systems Sciences Committee, NASA Advisory

    Suggested Citation:"7 Research Priorities and Recommendations." National Research Council. 1993. Solid-Earth Sciences and Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1990.
    ×

    Council, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., 208 pp.

    Interagency Coordinating Group for Continental Scientific Drilling (1988). The Role of Continental Scientific Drilling in Modern Earth Sciences: Scientific Rationale and Plan for the 1990s, 151 pp.

    Mueller, I. I., and S. Zerbini, eds. (1989). Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Interdisciplianry Role of Space Geodesy, Erice, Sicily, Italy, July 23-29, 1988, Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

    The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP): A Study of Global Change (1990). The Initial Core Projects, IGBP Report No. 12, International Council of Scientific Unions, Stockholm, 232 pp. plus appendixes.

    NSF (1990) Report of the Merit Review Task Force, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C., 22 pp.

    Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc. (1990). Ocean Drilling Program: Long Range Plan, 1989-2002, Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc., Washington, D.C., 119 pp.

    Interagency Coordinating Group for Continental Scientific Drilling (1991). The United States Continental Scientific Drilling Program, Third Annual Report to Congress, 35 pp. + appendixes.

    NSF (1991). The Advisory Panel Report on Earth System History, Division of Ocean Sciences, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C., 99 pp.

    NASA (1991). Solid-Earth Science in the 1990s: Volume 1—Program Plan , NASA Technical Memorandum 4256, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., 61 pp.

    NASA (1991). Solid-Earth Science in the 1990s: Volume 2—Panel Reports , NASA Technical Memorandum 4256, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., 296 pp.

    NASA (1991). Solid-Earth Science in the 1990s: Volume 3—Measurement Techniques and Technology, NASA Technical Memorandum 4256, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., 171 pp.

    OTA (1991). Federally Funded Research: Decisions for a Decade, Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 314 pp.

    The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme: A Study of Global Change (IGBP) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (1992). The PAGES Project: Proposed Implementation Plans for Research Activities , Stockholm, 112 pp.

    OSTP (1992). Our Changing Planet: The FY 1993 U.S. Global Change Research Program, Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences, Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, Washington, D.C., 90 pp.

    OSTP (1992). Grand Challenges 1993: High-Performance Computing and Communication, Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, Washington, D.C., 68 pp.

    Interagency Working Group on Data Management for Global Change (1992). The U.S. Global Change and Information Management Program Plan, Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.C.

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    Next: Appendix A »
    Solid-Earth Sciences and Society Get This Book
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    As environmental problems move upward on the public agenda, our knowledge of the earth's systems and how to sustain the habitability of our world becomes more critical. This volume reports on the state of earth science and outlines a research agenda, with priorities keyed to the real-world challenges facing human society.

    The product of four years of development with input from more than 200 earth-science specialists, the volume offers a wealth of historical background and current information on

    • Plate tectonics, volcanism, and other heat-generated earth processes.
    • Evolution of our global environment and of life itself, as revealed in the fossil record.
    • Human exploitation of water, fossil fuels, and minerals.
    • Interaction between human populations and the earth's surface, discussing the role we play in earth's systems and the dangers we face from natural hazards such as earthquakes and landslides.

    This volume offers a comprehensive look at how earth science is currently practiced and what should be done to train professionals and adequately equip them to find the answers necessary to manage more effectively the earth's systems.

    This well-organized and practical book will be of immediate interest to solid-earth scientists, researchers, and college and high school faculty, as well as policymakers in the environmental arena.

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