Two hundred years ago, Lewis and Clark were preparing for their scientific and
cultural exploration into Native American lands. Twenty years ago, the Space Telescope
Science Institute was built in Baltimore, Md., an astronomical research center
poised for the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. The scientific contributions
of these two initiatives are already legend. Our cover story describes a new initiative
that will swing a focus of major scientific investigation from westward and outward
to inward and downward. EarthScope proposes to use revolutionary technologies
to investigate the structure of Earth beneath the continental United States from
crust to core. Author Gregory van der Vink, writing for the EarthScope working
group and steering committees, offers an overview of the project and its integrated
components. EarthScope has been years in the planning, at least in the minds of
many earth scientists, particularly geophysicists. Now it is included in National
Science Foundation (NSF) planning and as $35 million of the presidents proposed
fiscal year 2003 budget.
In a report published last year and conducted at the request of NSF, the National
Research Council enthusiastically endorsed the total program, all of its components
and scientific objectives. EarthScope could provide new data that will reinvigorate
earth science investigations and contributions both in terms of scientific understanding
and in terms of societal concerns, ranging from earthquake and volcanic hazards
to water and mineral resources. This program holds extraordinary potential for
both the earth sciences and society.
A major challenge to EarthScope proponents will be developing broad support and
including the broadest range of the diverse earth sciences. EarthScope is a big
science program, in fact probably the biggest ever for the earth sciences.
Big science worries some earth scientists, who fear that such projects
might take funding from their own work.
If we want new data from tough places, we will need to make expensive and tough
decisions. The space program, for example, is a big concept that has required
big investments. But it has also produced big changes in all our sciences. EarthScope
should do the same for our understanding of the continent on which we live. And,
at the same time, it should produce opportunities for the research proposals of
individual investigators working in a wide range of earth science fields. We need
an infusion of new data from new platforms to address intractable
scientific and societal challenges.
Our second feature, Science on Tribal Lands, also ties us to history.
Lewis and Clark sought to scientifically explore Native American lands. Today,
as author Susan Marcus tells us, scientists work with Native American communities
to help them manage the land they now control. Marcus describes the continuing
tradition of the U.S. Geological Surveys scientific work in tribal lands.
One hundred and thirty years ago, John Wesley Powell, second director of the Survey
and founder of the Bureau of Ethnology, was exploring the Colorado River. An outgrowth
of his exploration was a chance to observe how the Native Americans lived and
spoke. Now USGS scientists are helping Native Americans manage their resources,
particularly water. Earth scientists have much to contribute to Native Americans
and their lands, and much to learn from them about spiritual stewardship.
Somehow it feels as if we are on the threshold of astounding discoveries that
will prove to be rooted in centuries of careful scientific preparation.
Believe your compass,
Samuel S. Adams, Editor-in-Chief