Collaborative Research: Towards a Weathering System Science Consortium: Two Conferences on Biogeochemistry of the Critical Zone

Project: Research project

Project Details


The world's soil resource is probably second only to water in terms of its importance to human society. The rates and mechanisms of processes within the soil zone have a significant impact on events throughout Earth's systems; for example, these processes contribute to nutrient cycling and neutralize acidic precipitation in watersheds. Despite the importance of the soil resource, estimates of soil formation rates are based upon unproven assumptions of steady state and vary widely. However, all estimates agree on a common point: the current estimates of soil erosion rates are one to three orders of magnitude greater than estimates of average soil formation rates, a disturbing conclusion considering the importance of soils to society.

The scientific merit of this proposal lies in addressing a clear need for a better system tracking and disseminating information regarding weathering and soil formation. Our proposed initiative will investigate the following question: How does Earth's weathering engine transform rock into soil to nourish ecosystems, shape terrestrial landscapes, and control atmospheric carbon dioxide? The answer requires coupling physical, chemical, and biological processes over a range of spatial and temporal scales and involves a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines.

Traditionally, terrestrial low-temperature geochemists and soil chemists have worked in small, single or double PI projects. Very few large, multi-PI projects that cross scales and disciplines have developed from within this community. In contrast, among other scientific communities, large programs have developed to organize scientists into coordinated multi-university teams. For example, IRIS and COSEE have been extremely successful in generating enthusiasm and interest in the seismology and oceanography communities. We propose a new paradigm, a Weathering System Science Consortium (WSSC), to forge this type of multi-PI approach to weathering science and environmental biogeochemistry among terrestrial low-temperature geochemists and soil chemists/biologists.

To lay the groundwork for the proposed WSSC, we are requesting funding for two workshops, a symposium at the 18th World Congress of Soil Science in 2006 in Philadelphia that will feature leading scientists who will discuss research frontiers and needs concerning the critical zone, and a database specialist. The current vision for WSSC incorporates four components: 1) a set of 'node' sites for data collection; 2) a network of 'backbone' soil sites that will be investigated for a standard set of weathering parameters over a range of depths; 3) technical support for instrument and sample node sites and backbone sites and coordinated data management and sample storage systems; and 4) the integration of these efforts through a variety of community-building approaches.

The broader impacts of this funding request include the following: 1) improved understanding of the current diversity of questions within the fields of weathering science and environmental biogeochemistry; 2) improved understanding by US scientists of weathering initiatives occurring abroad; 3) development of a coordinated plan to quantify weathering rates in diverse settings; 4) development of a plan to standardize data gathering in the field of weathering science; 5) development of a plan to store and disseminate data from weathering sites worldwide for use by the entire natural sciences community; and 6) organization of the scientific community to investigate fundamental questions in weathering science with great relevance to human society and natural ecosystems.

Effective start/end date4/1/053/31/08


  • National Science Foundation: $74,010.00


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