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NSF News | Discoveries

Critical Zone Observatories

NSF Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory NSF Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory/Jenny Park

Earth's critical zone: where rock meets life.

Scientists at NSF's network of nine Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) are addressing questions about the thin veneer of Earth's surface that extends from the top of the tree canopy to the base of weathered bedrock. The zone is critical because it's where fresh water flows, soil is formed and life flourishes. The critical zone provides most of the ecosystem services on which society depends.

CZO Discoveries

Part 1: Can Marcellus Shale Gas Development and Healthy Waterways Sustainably Coexist?
National Science Foundation Sustainability Research Coordination Network is providing answers

Part 2: A Tree Stands in the Sierra Nevada
A coniferous view of the link between snowmelt and water supplies in the U.S. West

Part 3: Science on the Graveyard Shift
Discovering what gets buried and how

Part 4: High-peak Creeks, Forest Fires and Landscape Erosion: Could They Be Linked?
Colorado's Boulder Creek watershed: Where rushing streams, raging blazes and the Rockies meet

Part 5: El Yunque, Majestic Rocky Icon of Puerto Rico: Impervious to the Ravages of Time?
Anvil-shaped promontory formed inside an ancient supervolcano

Part 6: Earth Week: The Search for White Gold--Snowmelt
Thin snowpack puts ecosystems and water resources in critical condition

Part 7: Trail of Fire Leads to Less Snow, Threatened Water Resources
Scientists study New Mexico's Rabbit Mountain, where forests burned in the 2011 Las Conchas fire

Part 8: Granite bedrock and sequoia forests 'communicate' in the Sierra Nevada
Research reveals the coevolution of life and landscapes

Part 9: On World Water Day, scientists peer into rivers to answer water availability questions
NSF Critical Zone Observatory researchers study California's Eel River for insights into water losses

Part 10: What's good for crops not always good for the environment
Measure of age in soil nitrogen could help precision agriculture

Part 11: NSF-supported scientists to present research results on Earth's critical zone at AGU fall meeting
Topics range from the function of Earth's 'living skin' to interactions between climate and bedrock

Part 12: NSF awards $1.35 million for new institute focused on Earth's critical zone: Where rock meets life
Institute scientists will cross the boundaries of Earth's critical zone from tree canopy to groundwater base

Part 13: NSF awards grants for four new critical zone observatories to study Earth surface processes
Sites are in Southeast Piedmont; Southwest Idaho; Northern California; and Illinois-Iowa-Minnesota

Part 14: Dust contributes valuable nutrients to Sierra Nevada forest ecosystems
New research finding provides insight into role dust may play as ecosystems change

Part 15: NSF awards grants for four new critical zone observatories to study Earth surface processes
Sites are in Southeast Piedmont; Southwest Idaho; Northern California; and Illinois-Iowa-Minnesota

Part 16: Can an ancient ocean shoreline set the stage for a tropical forest of today?
Researchers at NSF Critical Zone Observatory and Long-Term Ecological Research sites are finding out.

Part 17: Changes in non-extreme precipitation may have not-so-subtle consequences
Analysis of more than five decades of data leads to new conclusions