CZ RCN: Expanding knowledge of the Earth's Critical Zone: connecting data to models

  • Singha, Kamini (PI)
  • Gasparini, Nicole N. (CoPI)
  • Li, Li (CoPI)
  • Sullivan, P. L. (CoPI)
  • West, Nicole (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


The 'Critical Zone' of the Earth includes the portion of the planet from the atmosphere through groundwater. Important characteristics of the Critical Zone are buried within it: how does the ground beneath our feet vary, how has it developed over time, and, how can we predict changes that may occur across time and space. Addressing these questions will affect how we manage the projected increase in demand for food, energy, and water that will accompany the growth in human population to 9 billion people by 2050. This project is a Research Coordination Network (RCN) that will bring together scientific expertise and students to explore these topics.

This research coordination network (RCN) is intended to synthesize data and models to investigate a key research question: How has the structure of the Critical Zone evolved in the past and how will it respond to future perturbations resulting from increasingly intensive human activities? Quantifying the depth of Critical-Zone processes is important because it connects multiple areas of investigation: water storage, weathering, biogeochemical fluxes, and societal needs. Coupling models to data is difficult, since different research domains define the Critical Zone by changes in conditions that are hard to reconcile. Quantifying the gradient in properties that may define the lower boundary of the Critical Zone requires an injection of new ideas, methods, and people from across disciplines. This RCN is built around the following four topics: 1) synthesis efforts that help guide the coming decade of research on Critical-Zone architecture; 2) exploration of a diverse set of complimentary approaches for identifying the lower boundary of the Critical Zone and its influence on processes; 3) training of scientists in multidisciplinary data collection and modeling approaches; and 4) pathways to develop the next generation of Critical-Zone models. This RCN will involve at least 100 scientists, including early-career faculty, postdoctoral associates, and graduate students. Participants will be recruited from underrepresented ethnic, socio-economic, ability, and sexual identity groups. In addition to large and small meetings of the participants, this RCN will offer workshops at annual meetings and through webinars that focus on networking, diversifying research skills, and proposal development that will benefit a wider cross-section of early-career professionals.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date6/1/195/31/24


  • National Science Foundation: $499,698.00


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