Earth's Critical Zone and hydropedology: Concepts, characteristics, and advances

H. Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

245 Scopus citations


The Critical Zone (CZ) is a holistic framework for integrated studies of water with soil, rock, air, and biotic resources in the near-surface terrestrial environment. This most heterogeneous and complex region of the Earth ranges from the vegetation top to the aquifer bottom, with a highly variable thickness globally and a yet-to-be clearly defined lower boundary of active water cycle. Interfaces among different compartments in the CZ are critical, which provide fertile ground for interdisciplinary research. The reconciliation of coupled geological and biological cycles (vastly different in space and time scales) is essential to understanding the complexity and evolution of the CZ. Irreversible evolution, coupled cycling, interactive layers, and hierarchical heterogeneity are the characteristics of the CZ, suggesting that forcing, coupling, interfacing, and scaling are grand challenges for advancing CZ science. Hydropedology - the science of the behaviour and distribution of soil-water interactions in contact with mineral and biological materials in the CZ - is an important contributor to CZ study. The pedosphere is the foundation of the CZ, which represents a geomembrance across which water and solutes, as well as energy, gases, solids, and organisms are actively exchanged with the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere, thereby creating a life-sustaining environment. Hydropedology emphasizes in situ soils in the landscape setting, where distinct pedogenic features and soil-landscape relationships are essential to understanding interactive pedologic and hydrologic processes. Both CZ science and hydropedology embrace an evolutionary and holistic worldview, which offers stimulating opportunities through steps such as integrated systems approach, evolutionary mapping-monitoring-modeling framework, and fostering a global alliance. Our capability to predict the behaviour and evolution of the CZ in response to changing environment can be significantly improved if cross-site scientific comparisons, evolutionary treatment of organized complex systems, and deeper insights into the CZ can be made.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-45
Number of pages21
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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