What is the Critical Zone? And why is this portion of our planet is so important? (Video: University of Arizona)
Earth’s outer skin—where water, atmosphere, ecosystems, soil and rock interact—regulates the environment and determines the availability of life-sustaining resources. But how resilient is this Critical Zone to growing human impact?
An interdisciplinary team is working to help scientists answer this question for the Australian context by developing the nation’s first Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) Strategy — the first step towards providing a robust, long-term framework for more effective and collaborative Critical Zone Science (CZS).
With the Australian population expected to double by 2066, demand for food, energy, space and minerals will increase dramatically — as will the pressure on Australia’s diverse critical zone.
From inland deserts to coastal dunes, sensitive estuary environments and fertile agricultural soils, scientists are working hard to respond to these national challenges. Robust time-series data will help them predict how the critical zone will respond to future human impacts.
But, according to Dr Beryl Morris of TERN, Australia has infrastructure gaps, and collaboration across the domains nationally, and internationally, is not as advanced as it could be:
Dr Morris and a working group of scientists from TERN, AuScope and the universities in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales aim to build on Australia’s existing critical infrastructures with a national CZO strategy that addresses national infrastructure gaps and connects Australia globally.
The CZO strategy will seek to implement state-of-the-art environmental sensor technology, but it also aims for a flexible and adaptable scheme that will actively support innovation for improving the quality and long-term stability of CZO observations. It will also tackle the issue of data assimilation across diverse fields of research and develop data support for predictive model generation.
Deciphering the resilience of Australia’s diverse critical zone requires an integrated scientific approach to monitoring. Help build Australia’s first Critical Zone Observatory strategy (Credit: Suzanne Prober)
Just like the critical zone itself, the Australian CZO initiative is interdisciplinary, combining perspectives from experts on all layers of the critical zone: from lower atmosphere in contact with the trees down to unweathered bedrock.
Speaking of the surface environment, Dr James Cleverly of TERN and the University of Technology Sydney says:
Of the soil horizon, Dr David Chittleborough from the University of Adelaide comments:
Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney, the University of Western Australia and the University of Adelaide discuss issues related to developing a Critical Zone Observatory at a site on The University of Western Australia's Ridgefield Farm near Pingelly (Image: Wayne Meyer)
Representing groundwater science, Dr Martin Andersen from the NCRIS Groundwater program and University of New South Wales explains:
Finally, Dr Tim Rawling, CEO of AuScope, comments on the importance of integrated approaches to CZS and the deepest geological CZS layer:
We want to hear about how a CZO approach in Australia will benefit the research of scientists working across Australia in CZS — atmospheric, environmental, soil, water and regolith scientists alike. If you have expertise to contribute to building Australia’s first CZO strategy, please register your interest here and we will be in touch with next developments.
In the meantime, keep up to date with TERN and AuScope online.
A conceptual framework for Critical Zone Science developed by the US NSF CZO Network which shows the coupled hydrologic, atmospheric, geochemical, geomorphic, and biological processes in the Critical Zone (left), that integrates into a framework of Critical Zone structure and evolution (right) (Credits: criticalzone.org)
Published in TERN newsletter July 2019