Scientists have found that bedrock and the trees that grow from its weathered soils are, in a sense, communicating. Bedrock influences forests--and the landscapes of which they are a part--more than was thought, according to researchers funded through the NSF CZO network. Geoscientists Cliff Riebe, Jesse Hahm, Claire Lukens and Sayaka Araki of the University of Wyoming investigated the factors that influence forest cover in California's Sierra Nevada. Find out more in this discovery.
Credit: Claire Lukens
Snow melt from the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range provides drinking water to about 30 percent of California's residents, irrigates key crops in the San Joaquin valley and is used to run hydroelectric power plants that supply at least 15 percent of the state's electricity. Scientists from the University of California, Merced, are conducting research at the Southern Sierra CZO to more accurately measure snow pack and snow melt so that state water managers can make better decisions on how to allocate this precious resource. See more in this video.
Credit: NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation
The Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) of the Directorate for Geosciences supports proposals for research geared toward improving the understanding of the structure, composition and evolution of the Earth, the life it supports, and the processes that govern the formation and behavior of the Earth's materials.
Scientists at NSF's CZOs are working to understand Earth's critical zone -- the region between the top of the tree canopy and the base of weathered rock -- and its response to climate and land use changes. CZO researchers are peering into this thin veneer of Earth's surface, our living environment -- before it goes critical.
March 21, 2016
Critical Zone Observatories help U.S. plan for the future
Scientists work with farmers to study land use impact, with eye on food and water security, environmental sustainability
From treetops to rivers to the bedrock below, there is constant activity going on in what we can think of as the "skin" of our planet. It's called the critical zone, the active layer of the Earth where life-forms, from microbes to humans, find habitat and use resources.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), civil and environmental engineer Praveen Kumar at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Co-director Thanos Papanicolaou of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and an interdisciplinary team of researchers from nine universities run the Intensely Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory (IML-CZO). The observatory focuses on areas in the upper Midwest where human activities have dramatically transformed the land over time.
"The Intensely Managed Landscapes CZO provides a unique opportunity among all the observatories for understanding how the Anthropocene, along with geological legacy, have impacted ecosystem properties in the Upper Mississippi River Basin," says Papanicolaou. "Our team at the University of Tennessee examines ways of storing carbon within the soil profile for improving soil quality and productivity. Also, we determine from which areas within the watershed most of the eroded soil originates using different tracers."
The three main study sites of the IML-CZO are the Upper Sangamon River Basin in Illinois, the Clear Creek Watershed in Iowa, and the Minnesota River Basin. The goal is to continue to get productivity from these landscapes, while reducing the impact of human activities and, in some cases, even enhancing the ecosystems.
The researchers share their findings with local farmers who make the studies possible by allowing towers, sensors, fiber optics and other equipment on their property. Each critical zone has a story to tell about how climate, water, vegetation and humans interact, and each story helps us to better understand and address issues of food and water security and environmental sustainability.
IML-CZO is a joint effort by a growing team of faculty and scientists from many institutions, including the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; University of Iowa, Iowa City; Northwestern University, Chicago; Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana; Indiana University, Bloomington; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Penn State University, State College; Utah State University, Logan; the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.