recent times civilization has clearly become both an agent and a potential
victim of change. The impacts of human-induced changes on the climate
system, on air and water quality, on land use, and on the diversity of
life will almost certainly increase in the 21st Century. With an increasing
world population, an expanding global economy, and the development of
new technologies, humans have become powerful agents for environmental
change on global, regional, and local scales. Over the period since the
industrial revolution, scientific evidence has documented environmental
changes that are the result of a complex interplay among a number of natural
and human-related systems.
Our past successes
have helped us understand the causes and impacts of the Earth's natural
variations in the atmosphere, oceans, and the planet's interior and surface.
This knowledge, in turn, has led to a better understanding of how those
variations can affect our lives and has begun to illuminate how our current
actions can cause future change.
This plan for the
Directorate for Geosciences is an integral part of the overall National
Science Foundation strategic plan for achieving national and international
goals. It is built on the knowledge base that has emerged from our past
accomplishments in research and responds to the challenges posed by the
interactions between the environment and human activities. The plan outlines
the scientific directions needed to continue the expansion of our base
of knowledge of Earth systems through thoughtful investments in ideas,
people, and tools necessary to accomplish our goals.
increased understanding, combined with the powerful observing and monitoring
capabilities described in this plan, can create skillful predictions of
future variations in our planetary system. With this capability comes
a responsibility to provide relevant information to society in a timely
and comprehensible manner and to help educate our citizens and leaders
so that they can make informed decisions responding to environmental changes.
This plan is a key
element in setting a very important course for the nation. We may long
for the simpler times in which nature functioned beautifully and mysteriously,
and we did not pose a threat to it. However, we do have knowledge that
we do pose potentially serious threats to the environment and consequently
we are challenged to act responsibly to sustain our planet's habitability.
With that challenge comes the exciting vision — that we can shape and
determine a course that will allow both our society and our unique planet
to have a healthy and prosperous future.