Establishing a Critical Zone Exploration Network: A Proposal to Fund People and Sites

Project: Research project

Project Details


Intellectual Merit. The Critical Zone, defined to encompass all fluid, mineral, gaseous, and biotic components from the outer envelope of vegetation down to the lower limits of groundwater, supports all terrestrial life on Earth. Both experimental and field-based approaches have been used to investigate the zone; however, no systematic attempt has been made to collect data from sites encompassing the full range of variables that control weathering and Critical Zone processes. Thus, the scientific communities understanding of the Critical Zone lags behind some less complex Earth systems primarily due to the lack of availability of long-duration funding to support the intensive effort needed to collect data from the zone. Despite these difficulties, the need for quantified rates of weathering and Critical Zone processes is growing among groundwater chemists, soil chemists, radioactive waste specialists, geomorphologists, acid rain specialists, paleopedologists, and many other scientists interested in geochemical cycling.

To advance this vision of a systematic approach to weathering science, the Weathering

System Science Consortium (WSSC) has developed a draft science plan

( to start an initiative in Critical Zone Science. At present, WSSC is a group of ~50 university and government scientists who are interested in Critical Zone Science. In this proposal, we request funding to provide and administer eight seed grants to support the development of field observatories in a Critical Zone Exploration Network (CZEN). The recipients of seed grants will be subcontractors of Penn State University: the awardees are Critical Zone scientists from 7 universities and one government agency who were chosen by a selection committee after oral and poster presentations at the National Science Foundation-sponsored meeting entitled Frontiers in Critical Zone Science at the University of Delaware, October 24-26, 2005. Seed grants will allow the proposing teams to initiate the 8 Critical Zone observatory sites.

We also request funding to provide travel support for 10 U.S. graduate students and 2 senior scientists to travel to Europe to visit developing Critical Zone field observatories or laboratories where innovative techniques to investigate the Critical Zone are being developed. These students will also participate in the CZEN Cyberinfrastructure Work-shop. This aspect of the proposal recognizes the global aspect of Critical Zone science and will allow us to establish a framework of cooperation and collaboration across disciplinary and national boundaries while training the nucleus of future Critical Zone scientists.

Broader Impacts. A Critical Zone Exploration Network is needed to encourage state-of-the art research on coupled processes in the Critical Zone. This grant will allow eight teams to develop ideas for observatories to grow CZEN for both research and education. Outreach activities will be included or planned for each observatory. It is anticipated that WSSC will use the initial efforts funded by seed grants to propose a Critical Zone Exploration Network that will allow a systematic investigation of the Critical Zone.

Effective start/end date7/1/066/30/09


  • National Science Foundation: $339,956.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.