Complex Environmental Systems: Synthesis for Earth,
Life, and Society in the 21st Century (3-10-03)
The NSF Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education
recently released the report Complex Environmental Systems: Synthesis
for Earth, Life, and Society in the 21st Century to provide
an "overall strategic guidance about environmental research
and education areas specifically aligned with NSF's mission."
In all subfields of environmental research and education considered,
the report calls strongly for increased interdisciplinary collaborations
between all sciences and engineering disciplines in order to successfully
advance environmental research, and improve environmental education.
The environmental research portion of the report focused on three
themes: coupled human and natural systems, coupled biological and
physical systems, and coupled people and technology.
The coupled human and natural systems theme considers questions
related to the interaction between people and the environment and
how they affect each other. The report defines multiple subthemes
as avenues for future research, a couple of which present collaboration
opportunities for hydrologists. The greatest opportunity lies within
the area of freshwater resources, estuaries, and coastal environments.
Hydrologists would also play an important role in linking human
health and the environment, specifically on modeling aquatic environments
through which contaminants and pathogens might travel. The subtheme
of land, resources, and built environment seeks to understand "the
complex past and present relationships between human and natural
systems as they relate to land and resource use." Environmental
services and valuation, while not specifically defining areas of
research for geoscientists, does build upon geoscience data to determine
the human dependence on natural systems (including precipitation,
sea level, temperature, climate changes, and energy) and their economic
and social value.
The coupled biological and physical systems theme refers
to "measuring and understanding the processes and dynamics
that shape the physical, chemical, and biological environment from
molecular to planetary scale." This area holds research opportunities
for the largest number of geoscience subdisciplines with the report
directly mentioning geology, hydrology, soil sciences, and atmospheric,
oceanic and Earth system sciences. Within the subtheme of climate
variability and change, geoscientists will play a considerable role
in understanding, quantifying, and predicting climate changes and
their effect on natural systems. Also, the call for development
of models to evaluate biogeochemical cycles -- including C, O, H,
N, S, P and contributions of Ca, Fe, Si -- in soils, sediments,
and other systems, including the consequences of human perturbations
on these cycles, presents many research opportunities for geoscientists.
The report does not specifically include geoscientists as researchers
within the theme of people and technology, but it does require
the collection and analysis of geologic information to understand
how human institutions interact with the environment. In turn, the
research avenues highlighted in the report, such as those dealing
with climate change and resource allocation, could involve geoscientists.
Sources: NSF Advisory Committee Report: Complex Environmental
Systems: Synthesis for Earth, Life, and Society in the 21st Century
Contributed by Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted on March 10, 2003