Growing new generations of critical zone scientists

Adam S. Wymore, Nicole R. West, Kate Maher, Pamela L. Sullivan, Adrian Harpold, Diana Karwan, Jill A. Marshall, Julia Perdrial, Daniella M. Rempe, Lin Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Critical zone (CZ) science is entering its second decade. A new generation of scientists is emerging trained specifically in CZ science and are contributing to advances in environmental science across disciplines. Concurrently, the global scope of CZ science is being elevated as new countries invest in CZ observatories. Global CZ science has great potential to address a diverse array of questions beyond any single discipline. In this commentary we discuss a series of CZ science grand challenges that should be targeted by early-career researchers: understanding water availability in the CZ; expanding CZ science into new environments; communicating the societal relevance of CZ science including earthcasting to the public; seamlessly integrating biological sciences within the CZ framework; and scaling CZ processes over large spatial and temporal gradients. Targeting these grand challenges will push CZ science well into the future. We also highlight mechanisms for increased leadership within the CZ community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2498-2502
Number of pages5
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number14
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Figure 3. Critical zone scientist work across multiple time scales ranging from seconds to millions of years. Working across multiple time scales is an inherent challenge to CZ science but necessary to understand interacting processes and scale measurements for accurate earthcasting. [Colour figure can be viewed at] Acknowledgements—The authors would like to thank funding via the US National Science Foundation SAVI program. ASW was supported by the National Science Foundation Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory (EAR-0722476 and 1331841). This commentary was greatly improved by the efforts of the special issue editors and two anonymous reviewers.

Funding Information:
To drive CZ science forward, early-career CZ researchers should look toward funding sources that support large collaborative research. Examples include Research Coordination Networks (RCN), Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI), and Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) through the US NSF. Funding focused on data-syntheses include the Powell Center Grant (United States Geological Survey), the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS; University of California Santa Barbara), and the Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC; University of Maryland). International funding sources include, the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie Actions through the European Commission and the Chinese Academy of Science and Chinese Scholarship Council which support visiting scholars. These funding sources can be used to bring together researchers where ideas can be fully developed and global-scale hypotheses tested.

Funding Information:
Transdisciplinary science requires pushing past traditional disciplinary boundaries, integrating data across spatial and temporal scales and working towards inclusiveness. To continue making this global idea work, new generations of CZ scientists need to join with early-CZ pioneers to push this science forward. During this past decade, an increasing number of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers received training in CZ science (Figure 1). Much of this training was the direct result of specifically funded research programs including the US NSF funded CZO network and the European SoilTrEC (Soil Transformations in European Catchments) initiative through the European Commission. These CZ scientists are now developing their own careers, and are poised to advance Earth and environmental science, given the depth and breadth of their backgrounds. In this commentary, we outline a series of scientific grand challenges for early-career CZ researchers including: (1) understanding water availability in the CZ; (2) expanding CZ science into new environments; (3) communicating the societal relevance of CZ science including ‘earthcasting’ to the public; (4) seamlessly integrating biological

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


  • critical zone observatories
  • critical zone science
  • early-career
  • earth systems research
  • grand challenges


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