Geotimes

From the Editor

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 Earth’s 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 month’s 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 doesn’t 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 hasn’t 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 Rossbacher’s 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
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief


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