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NSF Frontiers in Earth-System Dynamics awards explore links among Earth processes and systems


Scientists investigate a changing planet now and in the past, with a view toward predicting its future

The effects of the ozone hole on the Southern Hemisphere’s climate; biodiversity in the Amazon/Andean forest; Earth system dynamics and human evolution in Africa; deep-Earth dynamics and long-term climate; the Earth system and its oxygen; and links among volcanoes, oceans, ice and carbon.

To explore the connections among our planet’s dynamic systems, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has made awards totaling $28 million for research on these six topics. They are the second set of grants in NSF’s Frontiers in Earth-System Dynamics (FESD) Program. Earth is often characterized as “dynamic” because its systems are variable over time and can respond rapidly to changes.

The FESD Program is supported by three divisions in NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences (GEO): Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, Earth Sciences and Ocean Sciences.

“FESD is one of GEO’s efforts to fund high-risk, high-return research,” says Roger Wakimoto, NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences.

“The awards reflect a multi-disciplinary approach that goes beyond what a single core program can support,” says Wakimoto. “The 2013 awardees’ projects are impressive, and will lead to exciting research discoveries.”

The goals of the FESD program are to foster an interdisciplinary and multi-scale understanding of the interplay among and within the sub-systems at work on Earth, and to catalyze research in geoscience areas poised for major advances.

The program also seeks to improve data resolution and modeling capabilities to more realistically simulate complex processes and forecast disruptive or threshold events, and to improve knowledge of the resilience of the Earth and its systems.

Understanding and predicting the behavior of the complex and evolving Earth system was identified as a major challenge in the report GEOVision: Unraveling Earth’s Complexities Through the Geosciences, released by the NSF Advisory Committee for Geosciences.

“Earth’s systems interact with each other on different scales, linked across space and time,” states the GEOVision report. “Changes in one component affect the status and function of other elements, and not always in straightforward or obvious ways.”

Studying one component in isolation yields an incomplete, and sometimes misleading, picture, according to the report.

“One of the most striking characteristics of the Earth system is the presence of patterns,” states GEOVision.

“Understanding how such methodical arrangements emerge over Earth’s history may provide an important key to predicting Earth-system behavior.”

The FESD awards address the need to discover and predict rates of change in these systems by fostering an integrated and multi-scale understanding of Earth’s processes and systems, improving data resolution and modeling capabilities to discover and predict how rapidly these processes and systems are changing, and determining how resilient they are to the effects of human activities.

The recent human footprint on Earth has been large. The FESD awards will help scientists discover how large, as measured against naturally-occurring events; how Earth might respond; and what actions might be taken now and in the future to help shrink our global footprint.

2013 NSF FESD Awards

FESD Type I: The dynamics of Earth system oxygenation: Ariel Anbar, Arizona State University

FESD Type I: The dynamics of mountains, landscapes and climate in the distribution and generation of biodiversity of the Amazon/Andean forest: Paul Baker, Duke University

FESD Type I: Earth system dynamics and its role in human evolution in Africa: Andrew Cohen, University of Arizona

FESD Type I: VOICE--volcano, ocean, ice, and carbon experiments: Charles Langmuir, Harvard University

FESD Type I Proposal: Continent-island arc fluctuations: Linking deep Earth dynamics to long-term climate: Cin-Ty Lee, William Marsh Rice University

FESD Type 1:The impact of the ozone hole on the climate of the Southern Hemisphere: John Marshall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Related Websites
NSF News: NSF Advisory Committee Offers New View for the Geosciences:
NSF GEOVision Report:
NSF News: First Awards Made in Frontiers in Earth-System Dynamics Program:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, its budget was $7.0 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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