Geotimes

From the Editor

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 president’s 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 Survey’s 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


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