A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020-2030: Earth in Time makes the case that advancing Earth science is more urgent than ever before. The report identifies 12 priority research questions that have the most potential to produce breakthrough insights and knowledge in Earth science. The report also identifies initiatives that the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) can undertake to help the Earth science community answer the priority research questions.
Understanding how Earth’s geomagnetic field (“geodynamo”) has changed through time and what controls its rate of change is crucial for understanding interactions from Earth’s interior to the atmosphere. Dig Deeper
Fundamental questions remain about when and why plate tectonics developed on Earth and how it has developed through time. Dig Deeper
Fundamental questions remain about how critical elements—essential to biological processes and the workings of modern society—are transported within the Earth over space and time. Dig Deeper
Deformation of the Earth occurs over a spectrum of rates and in a variety of styles, leading Earth scientists to reconsider the nature of earthquakes. Dig Deeper
The effects of volcanic eruptions create an urgent need for research on how magma forms, rises, and erupts around the world and how these systems have operated throughout geologic time. Dig Deeper
New technology for measuring topography is illuminating key questions about Earth processes and helping address urgent societal challenges related to geologic hazards, resources, and climate change. Dig Deeper
Earth’s critical zone—from the layer of vegetation down to the groundwater—influences many exchanges between the land and atmosphere, and its influence on climate is a vital component of understanding the Earth system. Dig Deeper
Both long-term and rapid environmental change in Earth’s history helps to elucidate Earth system dynamics and plays a critical role in predicting future change. Dig Deeper
Understanding current and future changes to the water cycle requires knowledge of the hydroterrestrial system and how the water cycle interacts with other processes. Dig Deeper
A deeper understanding of biogeochemical cycles is needed to quantify the role of biology through time in rock and mineral formation and weathering and carbon cycling. Dig Deeper
It is vital to understand how and why the diversity of life on Earth has varied over time, environment, and geography, including major events like extinctions. Dig Deeper
A predictive and quantitative understanding of geohazards is essential to reduce risk and impacts and to save lives and infrastructure. Dig Deeper
The following initiatives, if undertaken by the National Science Foundation’s EAR, could help advance essential infrastructure capabilities that will help the Earth science community answer the priority research questions.
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) should fund a National Consortium for Geochronology. Improved constraints on the ages and rates of geologic processes are essential for current and future research in Earth science.
EAR should fund a Very Large Multi-Anvil Press Facility. Quantifying the physical and mechanical properties of rocks, minerals, and melts is a cornerstone of EAR research, but the U.S. still lacks certain technological capabilities needed to synthesize novel samples and to conduct key physical properties and deformation experiments.
EAR should fund a Near-Surface Geophysics Center. Geophysical surveys of Earth’s near-surface region have become an essential tool for many Earth science fields. A near-surface geophysics center would enable novel observations and new insights for several of the science priority questions.
EAR should support continued community development of the SZ4D initiative, including the Community Network for Volcanic Eruption Response. This initiative seeks a deeper understanding of subduction processes that drive the evolution of Earth’s interior and that create devastating geohazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.
EAR should encourage the community to explore a Continental Critical Zone initiative. Characterizing the critical zone over large areas could advance understanding of water, carbon, and nutrient cycles; landscape evolution and hazards prediction; and land-climate interactions.
EAR should encourage the community to explore a Continental Scientific Drilling initiative. Improved mechanisms to support U.S. researchers’ involvement in continental drilling would enhance access to continuous geologic records of the deep history of the Earth and monitoring of active subsurface processes.
EAR should facilitate a community working group to develop mechanisms for archiving and curating currently existing and future physical samples and for funding such efforts. New questions and analytical methods are continually introduced, making physical archives invaluable to scientists many years after the relevant materials were collected.
A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020-2030: Earth in Time illuminates the rapid advances made in Earth science research over the past decade and lays out steps for continued advancement. The report identifies 12 priority research questions that have the most potential to produce breakthrough insights and knowledge. The report also maps out initiatives that the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) can undertake to advance essential infrastructure capabilities that will help the Earth science community answer the priority research questions.