Our articles this month may present, in more ways than one, some kind of a watershed
issue of Geotimes. These pieces are from disparate vantage points but seem
to resonate to the same melodic line: Earth science is systemic to
Earths future and its living passengers (with appreciation to our Comment
author). Further, we are in the process of discovering whether, like Rip Van Winkle,
earth scientists awake, stretch and proceed, or like the groundhog and his shadow,
return to their holes.
In this months Comment, Margaret Leinen, head of the National Science Foundation
(NSF) Geosciences Directorate, refers to NSF Geosciences and Beyond 2000 and its
conclusion that the research agenda for the geosciences should develop the
understanding society needs to maintain a healthy and habitable planet.
In particular, integrated studies should emphasize the interface between related
physical, chemical, biological and geological processes. She urges geoscientists
to step up to the challenge to incorporate such integrated investigations
and to participate in the next stage of learning about our planet.
Which will it be? Rip or the groundhog?
New Managing Editor Lisa Pinsker authored the first feature article (In
Search of the Mercury Solution) for her first issue after moving up from
her role as writer and Web editor of Geotimes. In an engaging account,
she traces an insidious poison from 320,000 babies at risk and legislative machinations,
through the Mad Hatter, power-plant emissions and waste incinerations, and finally
to methylating microbes. The breadth of the article doesnt feel much like
my traditional introduction to the geosciences so I am struggling to be more like
Rip and less like the groundhog. I particularly marveled at the image of an ice
core from the Freemont Glacier in Wyoming reflecting the industrial revolution,
the 1815 Tambora eruption in Indonesia and a 17 percent decrease in mercury concentrations
over the last 10 to 15 years, still not fully explained. For its societal relevance,
this unlikely platform of scientific data will likely make it into the Congressional
Record if it hasnt already.
Our second feature, "Hubbard Brook: Making Watershed Links," springs
from an acid rain-drenched watershed in New Hampshire. Staff Writer Greg Peterson
brings to life the 50-year history of this illustrious acid rain research site
with focus on current investigations. Already field research at the site has led
to changes in U.S. Forest Service forest management policy. In an ongoing experiment,
wollastonite is being applied to the forest in an attempt to reverse the 50 percent
decline in available calcium over the past 50 years. The real magic of Hubbard
Brook, and the other NSF Long Term Ecological Research sites, is the breadth of
disciplines reflected in the research teams that are designed to match an equal
breadth of societal questions. For example, what is the carbon sequestration capacity
of temperate forests?
Our interdisciplinary focus wraps up with Lisa Rossbachers Geologic Column,
Is there a doctor in the house? She sketches an entertaining glimpse
of the inescapable intertwining of geoscience and health, for example noting that
incidents of valley fever, a dust-borne soil fungus affliction, spiked following
the Northridge, Calif., earthquake. The geosciences have a lot to offer
the medical community, and we wait to be asked for our input at our own peril.
Now is the time for the geosciences to be proactive, Rossbacher concludes.
Will it be Rip or the groundhog?
Margaret Leinen asks: What is the source of this growing interest in interdisciplinary
work, of the daring to raise questions about exceedingly complex systems that
cross a vast range of scales? Yet I am teased by another question: Because
no scientist can master the relevant and overlapping fields, how are we to promote
interdisciplinary investigations among specialists? The days of a lone geologist
on horseback disappearing over the horizon are themselves disappearing.
Believe your compass and join Rip on the continuing journey,
Samuel S. Adams