Expanding the Spatial Reach and Human Impacts of Critical Zone Science

Kamini Singha, Pamela L. Sullivan, Sharon A. Billings, Leon Walls, Li Li, Karla M. Jarecke, Holly R. Barnard, Nicole M. Gasparini, Risa D. Madoff, Saroj Dhital, Candace Jones, Eric C. Kastelic, Lin Ma, Paula Perilla-Castillo, Boyoung Song, Tieyuan Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two major barriers hinder the holistic understanding of subsurface critical zone (CZ) evolution and its impacts: (a) an inability to measure, define, and share information and (b) a societal structure that inhibits inclusivity and creativity. In contrast to the aboveground portion of the CZ, which is visible and measurable, the bottom boundary is difficult to access and quantify. In the context of these barriers, we aim to expand the spatial reach of the CZ by highlighting existing and effective tools for research as well as the “human reach” of CZ science by expanding who performs such science and who it benefits. We do so by exploring the diversity of vocabularies and techniques used in relevant disciplines, defining terminology, and prioritizing research questions that can be addressed. Specifically, we explore geochemical, geomorphological, geophysical, and ecological measurements and modeling tools to estimate CZ base and thickness. We also outline the importance of and approaches to developing a diverse CZ workforce that looks like and harnesses the creativity of the society it serves, addressing historical legacies of exclusion. Looking forward, we suggest that to grow CZ science, we must broaden the physical spaces studied and their relationships with inhabitants, measure the “deep” CZ and make data accessible, and address the bottlenecks of scaling and data-model integration. What is needed—and what we have tried to outline—are common and fundamental structures that can be applied anywhere and used by the diversity of researchers involved in investigating and recording CZ processes from a myriad of perspectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023EF003971
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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