NCED’s unifying scientific goal is expressed in our Statement of Purpose (“vision statement”): to catalyze development of
an integrated, predictive science of the processes shaping the surface of the Earth, in order to transform management of
ecosystems, resources, and land use. The two key words in this expression are integrated and predictive. NCED arose out
of a consensus that progress in predicting the so-called critical zone—essentially, the near-surface environment—was being
impeded by a stifling combination of disciplinary fragmentation (eg, geomorphology, ecology, hydrology, geochemistry,
social sciences) and a tradition of descriptive science in some of the key disciplines. NCED is the first federally funded
center specifically focused on integrated, predictive critical-zone science. Our PI group represents all of these major earthsurface disciplines. What binds us together, beyond a common interest in the Earth-surface environment, is a commitment
to collaborating across our disciplinary specializations to reach our goal of critical-zone prediction. The practical side of our
goal is restoration. Restoring environmental function, by its very nature, is based on prediction—what will be the outcome
of a particular course of action (changing land use, modifying the form of a river channel, breaching a levee)? Currently,
restoration—the most prominent facet of environmental management—is often done using “seat of the pants” methods with
little or no scientific basis. Replacing that with an approach based on analysis and prediction would truly transform the way
we manage the Earth-surface environment.
Apart from the renewal of NCED, carrying with it a national commitment to Earth-surface science, we note with pleasure
that 2006 brought the realization of two major programs whose creation we have enthusiastically supported. The first is the
Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS) project, which aims to develop a coherent modeling framework
for predicting the evolution of the Earth’s surface. It will be the first of its kind in the world. CSDMS is the brainchild of
James Syvitski of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), University of Colorado, who is the founding
director. CSDMS focuses on modeling, emphasizing large-scale modular numerical modeling, and thus nicely complements
NCED, which focuses on process understanding and initial algorithm development. We hosted a final “preflight” workshop
meeting in December 2005 for the proposal to fund the CSDMS, which was submitted in February 2006. Now that CSDMS
is funded, we have plans in place to cement this close relationship via a postdoctoral research associate—and hopefully
more than one in the future—to serve as a liaison and make sure that insight and information are transferred seamlessly
between our two centers.
National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics Annual Progress Reports
National Science Foundation (NSF)
NCED 2007 Annual Report.
National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics.
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