The complex, interdisciplinary nature of Earth science provides outstanding opportunities to increase the impact of Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)-sponsored research through partnerships, both within the National Science Foundation (NSF) and with other agencies. Effective scientific partnerships are essential for creating productive collaborations, leveraging usage of facilities, and ensuring prudent use of research dollars. The potential of such interactions is central to the third task of the committee’s study charge, which is a discussion of how EAR can leverage and complement the capabilities, expertise, and strategic plans of its partners to encourage greater collaboration and maximize shared use of research assets and data.
Over the course of this study, the committee spoke with representatives throughout NSF, including the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO); the Divisions of Earth Sciences (EAR), Ocean Sciences (OCE), and Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS), and the Office of Polar Programs (OPP); the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE); and the Directorates for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), Engineering (ENG), and Biological Sciences (BIO). In addition, the committee also spoke with a number of other federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Box 4-1 provides the acronyms used throughout this chapter.
The committee was also informed by the community input responses to the questionnaire, which asked participants, “How might NSF best leverage this research and infrastructure through collaboration with other NSF divisions and directorates, federal agencies, and domestic and international partners?” These discussions and inputs form the basis of the committee’s response to its task.
EAR is one of four divisions within GEO. The others are OCE, AGS, and OPP. EAR has established strong relationships across these divisions and GEO in order to meet the needs of advancing research across the Earth system, not just within Earth science.
The committee invited EAR leadership and program directors to its first meeting and asked them for their thoughts on partnerships that EAR had within GEO, with other units of NSF, and with other federal agencies. The division director, section heads, and program directors noted a number of partnerships that exist at the division, directorate, and agency levels within NSF, as well as collaborations with other agencies such as NASA, USGS, DOE, and USDA. Discussants included Lina Patino, EAR Division Director; Stephen Harlan and Sonia Esperanca, Section Heads; and program directors throughout the division (listed in Appendix C).
Ongoing and new partnership opportunities such as Coastlines and People (CoPe), Signals in the Soil, Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS), and ideas stemming from NSF’s 10 Big Ideas1 were mentioned. CoPe2 is a partnership of many NSF directorates—GEO, BIO, ENG, the Directorates for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) and Education and Human Resources, and the Office of Integrative Activities (OIA). Projects will focus on capacity building and research related to impacts of natural processes and geohazards on coastal areas. This program also has direct applicability to national security; for example, some coastal military installations are facing threats to infrastructure and concerns about salinity and contaminants.
Signals in the Soil3 partners programs within GEO, BIO, ENG, and CISE with USDA and several agencies in the United Kingdom to fund transformative research on soil processes through modeling and advanced sensors. INFEWS4 partners GEO, ENG, SBE, and OIA with USDA to fund research that supports better understanding of the food–energy–water nexus as an integrated system. Built on the success of the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability-Water Sustainability and Climate program with similar participating partners, INFEWS fosters new and continuing collaborations among researchers from diverse disciplines to advance fundamental questions in this nexus. Each of these is an example of Growing Convergence Research, one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas. The Convergence initiative is encouraging NSF programs to bring together ideas from a wide variety of fields in order to inspire transdisciplinary research.
Program directors have fostered excellent international partnerships within EAR, including with China (National Natural Science Foundation of China), Israel (U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation), Taiwan, and the United Kingdom (National Environment Research Council). Section heads expressed a desire to strengthen these partnerships and have encouraged program directors to develop additional international collaborations. EAR is actively engaged in the Belmont Forum,5 an international partnership for funding of research on environmental change. An important aspect of international partnerships is how essential they are to developing and strengthening the global scientific workforce and networks of international contacts. These contacts are increasingly important as science becomes more global. The community input supported increasing international collaboration and noted possible opportunities with Canada, China, the European Union, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s International Geoscience Programme.
However, respondents also recognized the challenges to international collaboration. International programs can work on a longer time scale than typical NSF programs, and there was some feeling among EAR program directors that some partnership programs were terminated just as they were becoming fully established, sometimes due to changes in division leadership. The budgeting, fiscal management, and project oversight environments can be significantly different. Rotation of program directors within NSF and in external agencies can also make it difficult to sustain new partnerships. Another issue raised was that international partnerships can increase program directors’ workloads, especially when NSF leads the responsibility for review. Access to data remains a challenge to international partnerships, as not all countries share the same data policies as NSF.
Compared to other GEO programs (e.g., OCE, OPP), EAR has a larger number of research programs (seven), each covering a disciplinary area. This organizational scheme enhances a strong interaction of program personnel with researchers in specific core disciplines and is an important mechanism for supporting
1 See https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas (accessed December 20, 2019).
2 See https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2019/nsf19059/nsf19059.jsp (accessed December 20, 2019).
3 See https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505577 (accessed December 20, 2019).
4 See https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505241 (accessed December 20, 2019).
individual and small-group collaborations. EAR maintains this positive aspect of disciplinary research programs while also encouraging and supporting interdisciplinary research (e.g., through its Frontier Research in Earth Sciences [FRES]6 program). This is an important mechanism for supporting interdisciplinary research within EAR. However, given the vast scope of the Earth system in time and space, EAR may wish to consider other ways to increase funding flexibility to support interdisciplinary research across GEO divisions.
A nimble EAR can quickly take advantage of the shifting frontiers in basic science and interdisciplinary research.
Because Earth science is increasingly global, EAR-funded researchers benefit from international collaboration.
The committee spoke with Terry Quinn, OCE Division Director, and Candace Major, Marine Geosciences Section Head, to better understand the relationships between EAR and OCE. There is a record of successful collaborations in regions such as coastal environments and subduction zones, covering disciplines such as seismology, geodesy, tectonics, geochemistry, volcanism, and paleoclimatology. The two divisions have worked together on Geodynamic Processes at Rifting and Sub-ducting Margins (GeoPRISMS)7 and Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change (P2C2).8 Subduction zone science is funded by both EAR and OCE, and EAR supports Seismological Facilities for the Advancement of Geoscience (SAGE) and Geodetic Facility for the Advancement of Geoscience (GAGE) awards for research cruise–related experiments. In addition, a working group of program directors is considering how EAR and OCE can better cooperate regarding coastal oceanography.
Research that recognizes connections between terrestrial and ocean environments (“crossing the shorelines”) has the potential to advance many of the key research questions, from dynamics of Earth’s interior, to water and biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity, and climate (both paleoclimate and future climate questions), to reducing risks from earthquakes, eruptions, and tsunamis. Partnerships with OCE and international partners (such as those involved in the International Ocean Discovery Program) are needed to access sedimentary archives of continental tectonic and surface processes that are archived in the ocean basins. Characterizing change in topography and bathymetry could be another area of partnership, as are shallow ocean chemistry and coastal terrestrial water quality from seawater intrusion and storm surge. The intricate connections among precipitation, changes in ocean salinity, and moisture transport from ocean to land provide opportunities with both OCE and AGS.
The committee spoke with Anjuli Bamzai, AGS Division Director, to learn more about partnerships between EAR and AGS. EAR and AGS collaborate on funding paleoclimate (through P2C2), climate and large-scale dynamics, and meteorology. However, EAR appears to make limited use of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its research opportunities. While EAR and AGS do not currently have many collaborations in the areas of atmospheric chemistry, aeronomy, and magnetophysics, they work together on disciplines such as hydrometeorology and hydroclimate and topics such as flooding, land-surface coupling, and trace gas emissions related to seismic activity. Because of NCAR’s mission to develop and maintain community-supported Earth System Models, it invests significantly in advancing land modeling. Areas of active development in land modeling intersect directly with a number of EAR disciplinary and cross-cutting programs, particularly Hydrologic Sciences, Geomorphology and Land-use Dynamics, and the Critical Zone Collaborative Networks. Land models are increasingly key for understanding the response of terrestrial systems to climate and land-use change, and they benefit
6 “The FRES program will support research in Earth systems from the core through the critical zone. The project may focus on all or part of the surface, continental lithospheric, and deeper Earth systems over the entire range of temporal and spatial scales. FRES projects should have a larger scientific scope and budget than those considered for funding by disciplinary programs in the Division of Earth Sciences (EAR). FRES projects may be interdisciplinary studies that do not fit well within EAR’s disciplinary programs or cannot be routinely managed by sharing between disciplinary programs.” From https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=504833 (accessed March 30, 2020).
8 See https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5750 (accessed December 20, 2019).
significantly from data collected with EAR funding. EAR and AGS could partner to uncover fundamental aspects of Earth’s internal magnetic field and how it affects space weather and could strengthen interdisciplinary research on paleoclimate and the water cycle. Other potential partnerships between EAR and AGS include calibration of cosmogenic isotope production, to enable accurate estimates of exposure ages and radiocarbon dates, and of magnetic field strength, which influences astronomical cycles and orbital forcing.
The committee interviewed Alex Isern, OPP Antarctic Sciences Section Head, to understand collaborations between EAR and OPP. There have been no formal partnerships between the two divisions for at least a decade, but OPP is interested in taking advantage of any collaborative efforts that arise. OPP contributes support to the Portable Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere Instrument Center and to GAGE, which are co-funded by EAR. OPP also participates in P2C2 with other GEO divisions. Due to the logistical difficulties of working in polar regions, Earth science projects in the Arctic and Antarctic are funded by OPP rather than EAR. The two divisions could jointly encourage proposals if there was an interesting science question where an EAR-OPP partnership seemed natural (such as in Greenland or Arctic Canada, for example). Another possibility for collaboration is to continue having EAR program directors detail with OPP, as has been done previously. Partnerships dealing with cryosphere water flow, a new research frontier, reflect closely related interests within OPP and EAR. Potential collaboration may integrate cryosphere observations to study subglacial water flow, glacial and snowmelt runoff to streams, hydrologic changes in permafrost and frozen grounds, polar region ecohydrology (which also intersects with BIO), snow and ice physics, and remote sensing of polar regions (see Box 4-2). Understanding how polar regions will change due to climate change is increasingly important and an area where EAR-supported research is a critical knowledge base. NSF’s Navigating the New Arctic Big Idea, which seeks to leverage knowledge from outside the Arctic, could support better partnering between OPP and EAR scientists.
William Easterling, GEO Assistant Director, provided an overview of GEO’s current and future partnerships. He noted that the coasts, climate, water, energy, and geohazards will continue to be major research directions within GEO. He highlighted CoPe as well as GeoPRISMS, INFEWS, Signals in the Soil, and several of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas (Growing Convergence Research, Navigating the New Arctic, Harnessing the Data Revolution), as well as GEO’s success with international partnerships. Dr. Easterling also mentioned the Geosciences Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity and Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Pathways into Geoscience programs. Finally, he stressed the need for EAR to better articulate and publicize the important benefits of its research to policy makers and the public.
Across GEO Divisions
As mentioned previously, EAR has strong partnerships across the GEO Directorate. However, as research becomes more inter- and transdisciplinary, there will be continued opportunity to strengthen and expand both formal and informal collaborations. Because Earth science processes cross the boundaries set up by NSF’s organizational structure, and significant progress on the science priority questions will need collaboration with other disciplines, EAR might consider how to lower barriers to support interdisciplinary research across GEO divisions.
An important consideration is that cross-divisional programs are assessed in terms of achieving scientific goals or benefiting core disciplinary research programs. As an example, there were concerns among the committee that some interdisciplinary programs end just as they are demonstrating tangible success. Dr. Easterling mentioned that by redirecting research back into the disciplinary programs, research in some cross-divisional programs could continue after the specific program ends.
Components of the Earth system do not adhere to the administrative boundaries of GEO.
Recommendation: EAR should collaborate with other GEO divisions and other agencies to fund geoscience research that crosses boundaries, such as shorelines, high latitudes, and the atmosphere–land interface.
The committee also heard from Brandi Schottel, Associate Program Director, ENG Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET); Kendra Mclauchlan, Program Director, BIO Division of Environmental Biology; Amy Walton, Program Director, CISE Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure; and Jessica Robin, Cluster Lead, OISE. Throughout the discussion, two repeated themes were the successful relationships that EAR has built with other directorates and EAR’s involvement in productive cross-directorate, cross-agency, and international partnerships. Several of these are discussed below. INFEWS was brought up by several representatives as a flagship EAR-led partnership program that is successful in leveraging budgetary resources from various programs to attempt to solve scientific and societal research questions of shared interests. Signals in the Soil was also mentioned as a successful cross-directorate partnership.
EAR has also entered into program partnerships with the Division of Chemistry and the Division of Materials Research within the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences through the Critical Aspects of Sustainability program. Proposals can address overarching issues of sustainability, such as increasing needs for raw materials used in sustainable energy infrastructure from minerals that are limited in abundance. Other areas of interest are identifying new sources of critical minerals on Earth’s surface, understanding pathways that lead to concentration of critical elements by metasomatic and geobiological processes, and the development of methods for sustainable extraction of critical minerals.
Future partnership opportunities for EAR exist. For example, an initiative in CBET with Earth science application is Urban Systems and Communities in the 21st Century,9 which seeks to understand the changes associated with urbanization. Paleoclimate research is an inherently collaborative discipline that integrates across programs within and outside of EAR. Earth scientists exploring climate and environmental change from deep time to the present day can provide valuable partnerships with a wide swath of federal agencies that are tasked with responding to climate change. There are many connections to different programs within GEO, given that climate records can be recovered from land, ocean, and ice archives. Additionally, there are natural connections to cross-cutting programs such as CoPe, P2C2, and Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems. The other directorates also described the importance of international collaborations.
Many of the challenges outlined in this report need high-performance computing capabilities that
include state-of-the-art hardware, software engineering, and computational science to represent the effects of small-scale processes on large-scale phenomena and to use diverse observations to constrain multi-scale and multi-physics models of the Earth. EAR has partnered with CISE on some efforts, but there remain ample opportunities to realize the full potential of computational geoscience. These efforts will entail deep collaboration with computational scientists and engineers and new approaches to data management and processing. Strengthening computational competencies for Earth science students could also be a partnering opportunity for EAR and the Divisions of Undergraduate and Graduate Education in the Education and Human Resources Directorate.
Co-funding interdisciplinary programs and partnerships poses challenges. There is a demand on program director time for planning and managing these programs. Some directorates have a program director devoted to cross-directorate and international programs (Brandi Schottel from CBET is one). The process of co-reviewing proposals across divisions is often a concern for scientists. A widely held belief in the geoscience community (and one mentioned several times in the community input) is that the process of having proposals reviewed by more than one panel reduces the chance of success, and that there were significant barriers to obtaining support when proposals need to be reviewed by more than one GEO division. However, NSF representatives stated that this is not supported by their data. There is a disconnect between NSF and the researchers in this regard, and therefore a need for improved communications to correct the perception that co-reviewed proposals have a lower success rate.
Cross-agency partnerships work best when there is strong common interest and robust community input and involvement. Determining which areas of research might be valuable for collaboration between NSF and other agencies can be challenging, because mission agencies generally have less flexibility in funding research topics than does NSF. However, there are important advantages when it is possible to converge on a research partnership. Cost-sharing is an obvious benefit, as well as the ability to meet NSF’s broader impacts criteria by demonstrating that NSF-funded investigator research supports agencies’ mission objectives. One of the major obstacles to partnerships is the administrative workload. Because the agencies have different missions, separate components of a collaborative project could be supported by different agencies.
Several other federal agencies fund and advance basic and applied Earth science research. USGS supports geologic mapping, the study of volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, and other geohazards, water resources, coastal and marine geology, and space weather. NASA supports satellite missions and ground-based instruments for terrestrial research, including the cryosphere, surface processes, hydrology, and ecosystems. It also has robust programs in geobiology, low-temperature geochemistry, astrobiology, and planetary geology. DOE provides access to synchrotron-radiation facilities at national laboratories and supports significant field programs in Earth surface processes. USDA supports research related to agriculture, forest, and water management, including soils and sediment, land cover change, and the carbon and water cycles. Federal funding in basic and applied Earth science is shown in Figure 4-1.
The committee met with David Applegate, Associate Director, USGS Natural Hazards Mission Area; Gerald Bawden, Program Scientist, NASA Earth Surface and Interior; Mary Voytek, Senior Scientist, NASA Astrobiology; and Nancy Cavallaro, National Program Leader, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In addition, committee members interviewed Jim Rustad, Geosciences Program Manager, Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences Division, Basic Energy Sciences, DOE Office of Science, and Paula Bontempi, NASA Acting Deputy Director, Earth Science Division.
Within USGS, many opportunities exist for partnerships with EAR, including making use of multiple datasets related to seismic and volcanic monitoring networks, stream gauges, hazard research, subduction zone science initiatives, and linking with the Volcano Hazards Program. USGS has an external research program on earthquake processes and effects and co-funds the Southern California Earthquake Center10 with EAR. It also operates regional earthquake monitoring
networks across the United States as part of the Advanced National Seismic System, which is a cooperative effort that analyzes seismic and geodetic data, provides dependable notifications of earthquake occurrences, and collects data for earthquake research and hazard and risk assessments (USGS, 2017). USGS also partners with NSF and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology to run the Global Seismic Network, which provides worldwide monitoring of earthquake activity, with more than 150 seismic stations distributed globally. In many cases, seismometers are combined with other sensors, such as microbarographs, anemometers, magnetometers, and Global Navigation Satellite System receivers, to form geophysical observatories.
A key relationship is between the USGS Volcano Hazards Program and academic volcanologists, with many USGS volcanologists participating in the NSF-funded Community Network for Volcanic Eruption Response (CONVERSE) Research Coordination Network (part of SZ4D). The Volcanic Hazards Program currently funds cooperative agreements in research and monitoring and operates volcano observatories and seismic networks throughout the United States. The USGS National Volcano Early Warning System (Ewert et al., 2005, 2018) aims to double the federal commitment to volcano science and includes provisions for expanding the program of cooperative agreements and funding grants for volcanic research by academic partners.
USGS’s Powell Center for Data Synthesis and Analysis has a partnership with NSF, including EAR. The Center offers research opportunities for working groups to utilize existing data to advance science in areas related to USGS’s missions. Several of the areas are closely related to EAR core disciplinary programs, including natural hazards, water and land resources, and energy and minerals.
There are also partnership opportunities between USGS and EAR on topics such as geomagnetic hazards and space weather. USGS has a long commitment to hydrogeophysics and would be a logical partner in critical zone and near-surface research, particularly related to the Near-Surface Geophysics facility and Continental Critical Zone initiative discussed in Chapter 3.
The report Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space (NASEM, 2018) develops the rationale for NASA Earth Science Division research. Among the highest science
priorities are quantifying water storage in aquifers and reservoirs; processes affecting sea-level rise; land deformation processes including eruptions, earthquakes, and landslides and the implications for the risks for human life and property; and changes to the state of terrestrial vegetation and the effects on biodiversity, as well as the effects on biogeochemical processes, including sources and sinks of methane and carbon dioxide and their future changes. The synergy between the science priorities outlined above and those of this report suggests the possibility of new research partnerships between EAR and NASA Earth Science Division’s Earth Science and Interior (ESI) Focus Area that would combine the large-scale observations from aircraft and spacecraft with ground-based measurements. This powerful combination could elucidate key Earth processes more completely than is possible if each research agency supported just their own investigators and studies.
In addition to providing funding to supplement NSF’s support of GAGE, NASA ESI has strong research interests in understanding subduction zone processes. NASA researchers participate in and have co-funded pilot projects with the Southern California Earthquake Center and are involved in the NSF-funded Research Coordination Network CONVERSE. They are also promoting connections between the NSF-supported Modelling Collaboratory for Subduction Research Coordination Network (part of SZ4D) and NASA High-End Computing resources and expertise.
Although the main focus of the NASA Astrobiology Program is planetary bodies beyond the Earth, the research begins with understanding the Earth through diverse studies ranging from the origin of life to the evolution of advanced life, as well as extraterrestrial impacts and studies with implications for solar system formation and evolution. NASA’s Astrobiology Program has research interests (NASA, 2015) that align well with the critical elements, biogeochemical cycles, and biodiversity questions, including the evolution of life and Earth’s habitability. Major themes in their strategy include abiotic sources of organic compounds, macromolecule function in the origin of life, increasing complexity of early life, and co-evolution of life and the environment. The research related to these four themes includes many study sites on the Earth11 and experiments with Earth materials. The complementary objectives with the Astrobiology Program also suggest opportunities for collaboration.
NASA also sees potential collaboration in the data space. For instance, NSF-funded investigators could take advantage of the large amount of data coming from Earth-observing satellites. Very large high-resolution datasets from NASA missions represent an under-tapped resource in the study of volcanic processes. Partnerships with NASA are needed to provide repeat measurements of topography of the continents, continental shelf bathymetry, and soil moisture and vegetation cover. Collaboration could be forged between EAR and NASA on satellite mapping of the geomagnetic field to monitor short-term changes such as geomagnetic jerks, and magnetization of meteorites and lunar samples. One of the barriers to direct participation of NASA researchers in NSF programs is that NSF does not accept proposals from federal employees or from federally funded research and development centers (such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
DOE’s Office of Science Basic Energy Sciences Program invests significantly in infrastructure to support Earth science research at synchrotron radiation facilities. There are three DOE synchrotrons operating as user facilities: the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the National Synchrotron Light Source-II, which was recently completed in 2015 at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory.
DOE provides synchrotron beamtime to users free of charge through user proposals. Research performed at APS’s GeoSoilEnviroCARS (GSECARS) facility by individual principal investigator groups is typically supported by NSF research grants spanning most or all of the disciplinary programs, especially Petrology and Geochemistry, Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry, and Geophysics. NSF’s Consortium for Materials Properties Research in Earth Sciences (COMPRES) targets research on Earth’s interior, especially rock and mineral physics. COMPRES supports user facilities at all three DOE synchrotrons, including human infrastructure and small-scale infrastructure development projects.
DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration builds and operates facilities for dynamic compression of materials, needed for understanding the interior of the Earth. This includes the National Ignition Facility
and the OMEGA Laboratory for Laser Energetics. At Sandia National Laboratory, the Z Machine and newly developed THOR are pulsed-power, dynamic compression systems, and at APS a newly built dynamic compression sector is now operational. While access to these facilities is considerably more limited than the DOE Basic Energy Science user facilities, there is tremendous opportunity for EAR researchers to access new regimes of pressure and temperature relevant to the Earth and exoplanet interiors, especially through ramp compression.
DOE’s Climate and Environmental Science Division has an interest in watershed function and runs a study site that is available to NSF researchers (see Box 4-3). Its Biological and Environmental Research mission is supporting the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (from 2012 to 2022) to improve understanding of carbon-rich Arctic system processes and feedback to climates. Earth surface processes studies are central to this effort. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy runs the FORGE geothermal test site, a multiyear experiment in creating enhanced geothermal systems. Partnering with DOE on this site could provide NSF with data and site access for instrumentation and subsurface samples. DOE also has several subsurface research sites in abandoned mines, such as the LBNL Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory site at the former Homestake Mine in South Dakota, which is also supported by NSF. These sites could host new research pathways in rock mechanics, fluid flow, and mineral systems. Partnerships with DOE could be developed related to energy development such as critical mineral resources, geothermal processes, and induced seismicity related to energy development.
DOE provides high-performance computing resources through its Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment program, which gives researchers computer time and support at its Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility.
DOE’s National Energy and Technology Lab supports research in a number of areas of potential interest to EAR researchers, including surface deformation and induced seismicity associated with fluid injection and extraction, reservoir characterization, and technology development. It maintains extensive contacts with industry and can help to facilitate academic–industry partnerships in these and related areas.
NASA, DOE, and USGS provide important capabilities supporting EAR research.
Partnerships currently exist between EAR and USDA, mostly with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) (e.g., Signals in the Soil and INFEWS). EAR and NIFA have had past collaborations that link food, water, and energy issues. There are opportunities to partner on pressing global challenges related to food security, water, land use, biodiversity, and sustainability. EAR also has had the opportunity to collaborate with NIFA on the Global Soil Partnership, the soils database interface, and on critical zone studies. Because NIFA funds some projects for 5-10 years, there are also opportunities for long-term research partnerships.
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) supports a wide range of research in water management, sedimentation, and soils. ARS’s experimental watersheds provide sites where EAR-supported researchers—in cooperation with ARS managers—install new observational instrumentation, and conduct field campaigns that can include destructive sampling of soils and vegetation, as well as experiments. A prime example of an EAR–ARS partnership is the co-location of the Reynolds Creek Critical Zone Observatory with the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed. In addition, ARS’s National Sedimentation Laboratory maintains a research program in watershed physical processes, with an emphasis on soil erosion mechanics and channel sediment transport.
Research at the U.S. Forest Service network of Experimental Forests and Ranges has played a central role in developing an understanding of ecologic, hydrologic, and geomorphic processes and how forest and range management interact with these processes (Hayes et al., 2014). On these sites, large-scale experiments such as harvesting of all trees in a watershed and monitoring the consequences have revealed key linkages among surface processes and ecosystems, as well as provided guidelines for land management. Sustained monitoring at several of the 84 sites across the United States provides unique multidecadal observations. Six of the nine Critical Zone Observatories are located on U.S. Forest Service land.
Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management provides access to important field areas for EAR researchers. The National Conservation Lands program of ~34 million acres specifically invites research in areas that are managed as wilderness, national monuments, conservation lands, and wild and scenic rivers. Ranging across diverse climate and ecosystems, mostly in the West, these contain valuable field settings for research. As an example, both the Reynolds Creek and Eel River Critical Zone Observatories are located on Bureau of Land Management lands.
The collections of the Smithsonian Institution, especially those of the Departments of Paleobiology and Mineral Sciences, provide a major resource for Earth scientists. Access is available regardless of funding source. In addition, the Smithsonian provides internships and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students and for post-doctoral researchers. The Smithsonian Institution also runs the Global Volcanism Program, whose mission to “document, understand, and disseminate information about global volcanic activity” is strongly aligned with the volcanism question.
New Possibilities for Partnerships
There are a number of federal agencies that could be fruitful partners for EAR in the future. The U.S. Department of Defense has interests in climate change, food security, and coastal resiliency that fit well with EAR’s research programs. For example, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s use of satellite imagery to evaluate Earth surface characteristics complements the work of many EAR researchers. As EAR scientists increase their use of drones for research activities, EAR may wish to partner with the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with appropriate policies for drone operations. In the emerging field of geohealth, EAR could collaborate with the National Institutes of Health to help transition NSF basic research in areas such as biochemical and water cycles or contaminant and sediment transport to human health applications. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has interests in
hydrology research and applications that are complementary to those of EAR, and EAR’s strong expertise in geohazard research is a natural fit for USACE’s role in flood mitigation and levee maintenance and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s need for information, training, and response capabilities. In addition, there are potential partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in areas such as the water cycle and tsunami processes and hazards. Office of Science and Technology Policy committees and subcommittees (such as those related to water quality, critical minerals, and disasters) may be appropriate places to develop and strengthen these relationships. Responses from the community input also encouraged more cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education on a range of topics, from expanding the geoscience curriculum in K-12 education and establishing national Earth science education standards to more graduate and post-doctoral programs.
Recommendation: EAR should proactively partner with other NSF divisions and other federal agencies to advance novel societally relevant research.
There are multiple federal agencies that conduct basic and applied research that directly intersect with EAR. These points of intersection present opportunities to partner across agencies to better leverage facilities, optimize expenditure of budgetary resources, promote workforce development, and extend the application of data for scientific research. At the same time, they also present challenges due to contrasts in the individual agencies’ goals and missions. While it is important to navigate these areas carefully, partnerships with other federal agencies represent opportunities to expand the research enterprise for the benefit of the community, especially in a resource-constrained environment.
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Ewert, J. W., A. K. Diefenbach, and D. W. Ramsey. 2018. 2018 update to the U.S. Geological Survey national volcanic threat assessment. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5140. 40 pp. DOI: 10.3133/sir20185140.
Hayes, D. C., S. L. Stout, R. H. Crawford, and A. P. Hoover (eds.). 2014. USDA Forest Service Experimental Forests and Ranges: Research for the Long Term. New York: Springer. 666 pp. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-1818-4.
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