CUAHSI's 2020 Winter Cyberseminar Series:

Growing the Critical Zone Research Network

Hosts: Kamini Singha, Colorado School of Mines | Pamela Sullivan, Oregon State University | Nicole Gasparini, Tulane University | Li Li, Penn State University | Nicole West, Central Michigan University 

Critical zone science is a transdisciplinary approach for solving some of the most pressing earth-surface challenges society faces, such as water availability, feeding a growing world population, and carbon sequestration. One of the earliest definitions of the critical zone (CZ) is the “heterogeneous, near surface environment in which complex interactions involving rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms regulate the natural habitat and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources” (National Research Council, 2001). If we are to develop the insights necessary to predict CZ processes into the future, we need people who study how the near-earth-surface functions now, in the past, and in the context of anthropogenic change —especially from those historically underrepresented in STEM. Here, we look to invite new scientists at all career stages into the world of the critical zone through introducing concepts in this part of the earth system, and helping develop an inclusive network of scientists.

This series has now passed. View all past  2020 Winter Cyberseminar Series recordings here

Dates, Speakers, and Topics:

  • February 5, 2020: Measurement tools to explore the critical zone | Daniella Rempe - University of Texas - Austin, Jennifer McIntosh - University of Arizona, Alexis Navarre-Stichler - Colorado School of Mines, Jorden Hayes - Dickinson College | Jill Marshall, University of Arkansas | Adam Ward, Indiana University | Facilitators: Nicole West and Kamini Singha
  • February 12, 2020: Modeling the Critical Zone | Jennifer Druhan - University of Illinois, Katy Barnhart - University of Colorado - Boulder, Caroline Nash - Boise State University, Crystal Ng - University of Minnesota, Alison Anders - University of Illinois | Ying Fan Reinfelder, Rutgers University | Facilitators: Li Li and Nicole Gasparini
  • February 19, 2020: Dealing with change in the critical zone | Julia Perdrial, University of Vermont | Xavier Comas, Florida Atlantic University | Sharon Billings, University of Kansas | Rebecca Lybrand, Oregon State University | Francis Rengers, U.S. Geological Survey | Facilitators: Pam Sullivan and Nicole West
  • February 26, 2020: Diversity, Inclusion and access in the critical zone | Rick Bennett, University of Arizona | Kristina Keating, Rutgers-Newark | Kyle Blount, Colorado School of Mines | Christina Bandaragoda, University of Washington | Aisha Morris, National Science Foundation | Alejandro Flores, Boise State University | Facilitators: Kamini Singha and Nicole Gasparini

Presentation Abstracts 

  • February 5, 2020: Measurement tools to explore the critical zone

    Measurement tools to explore the ciritcal zone

    Point measurements at the surface and subsurface usually lead to a low-resolution view of the CZ. For example, subsurface CZ properties and processes are often illuminated from materials collected from drilling and augering; however, these techniques are both invasive and typically limited to a few narrow, widely spaced holes. Our ability to test hypotheses about the subsurface is largely lacking due to a paucity of measurements at depth and confusion around how to match data from varying scales.  Remote sensing and geophysics, including airborne or ground-based platforms, have been useful for indirectly measuring various physical properties of the earth’s near-surface or subsurface over larger scales, but difficulties remain in using these data quantitatively.  Here, we explore the state of the science for making measurements in the critical zone, intended for a broad audience new to critical-zone science, and outline potential areas for future work and ways to get involved.

  • February 12, 2020: Modeling the critical zone

    Modeling the critical zone

    Given the critical zone data that have become available across environmental observation networks in the past decades, finding ways to synthesize data across sites for properties (including depth, porosity, and soil-regolith-bedrock permeability contrast) as well as processes (including water storage and release, sediment transport, and biogeochemical transformation) remain difficult. Process-based modeling is one of the tools that can integrate existing data and start to make projections into the future. However, many complications exist in model systems. For example, individual CZ sites may only be represented as one (or less than one) homogeneous grid block using average properties in large-scale models. Although process complexity often decreases as spatial scales increase due to “averaging” and “aggregation”, the CZ is heterogeneous with large spatial variations in structure, properties, and fluxes. We typically often do not know which processes dominate at large scales, in what mathematical form they should be represented, and how they should be parameterized. These challenges lie at the heart of CZ science, where one major goal is to understand observations across systems under different climate, geology, and human conditions. Here, we explore the state of the science for numerical models applied to CZ science, intended for a broad audience new to critical-zone science, and outline potential areas for future work and ways to get involved.

  • February 19, 2020: Dealing with change in the critical zone

    Dealing with change in the critical zone

    We have now entered the so-called “Anthropocene”, the modern era in which humans are the largest force on earth-system processes and where external forcings on the critical zone (e.g., land conversion, erosion, carbon and nutrient cycles) are accelerating. The cascading effects of changing external forces on the CZ and its ability to govern water flow, water quality and erosion is not well known. If we can observe the relationships and understand how feedbacks among chemical, mechanical, and biological processes govern the CZ, then we may be poised to project the impacts of the “great acceleration” on water, nutrient and sediment fluxes in the coming centuries. Recent changes in climatological and management regimes have influenced the CZ from its base to its surface. Hindcasting—projecting CZ water, solute and sediment fluxes into the past using present-day information—may illuminate potential processes and process interactions responding to exogenous drivers of CZ processes.  Here, we explore the state of the science around measuring and modeling changes in the Anthropocene, intended for a broad audience new to critical-zone science, and outline potential areas for future work and ways to get involved.

  • February 26, 2020: Diversity, inclusion and access in the critical zone

    Diversity, inclusion and access in the critical zone

    Paraphrasing from the National Academies’ ad hoc committee studying the effectiveness of mentoring in STEM, mentoring at all levels is critical for the advancement of underrepresented groups, which here we take as women, those in the LGBTQ+ community, racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation students, veterans, those with disabilities, and beyond. Enhancing diversity in STEM related fields and CZ science means promoting inclusion, access, and humility—and in many cases, recognizing our own discomfort in talking about these issues. Learning and information sharing must be delivered in multiple platforms that develop self-awareness and self-reflection skills, among others. If we are to truly address the inequities experienced by underrepresented groups, it is important that we inspire inclusion.  Here, we explore multiple techniques to inspire and support diversity, inclusion and access in the earth sciences, intended for a broad audience new to critical-zone science, and outline potential areas for future work and ways to get involved.