University announces new critical zone center
1:01 p.m., Oct. 10, 2006--The University of Delaware has announced the formation of a new Center for Critical Zone Research, designed to conduct basic research concerning the Earth's life-sustaining, near-surface environment, during a ceremony Tuesday morning, Oct. 10, at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.
The critical zone encompasses the outermost surface of the planet, from the vegetation canopy to groundwater, and is exceptionally vulnerable to human activity, according to Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Plant and Soil Sciences at UD and director of the new center.
“Because the critical zone includes air, water and soil and is the focal point of food production, it has a major effect on human life,” Sparks said. “It is imperative that we better understand the interactions that occur there.”
The Center for Critical Zone Research will be a multidisciplinary initiative that will bring together scientists and engineers across the University to focus on the complex interactions of rock, soil, water, air and living organisms that regulate and populate the natural habitat.
“The Center for Critical Zone Research is part of a growing network of centers at the University of Delaware that bring together scientists from a variety of disciplines to focus on complex problems of great importance,” UD President David P. Roselle said. “Such high quality research is a hallmark of the University as it tackles the challenges of the 21st century.”
“The center will do important work in a field that is vital to the well-being of this state, and the research findings developed here will have relevance locally, nationally and internationally,” UD Provost Dan Rich said.
U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) said the new center is “critically important” to ensure that the “our children can grow up in the kind of world we would want our children to grow up in,” a world that is environmentally friendly and affords strong job opportunities.
Lt. Gov. John Carney said the emergence of the center is important to the state's policymakers as they deal with complex issues, adding, it is “very encouraging” that lawmakers will be afforded an opportunity to make decisions based on sound science.
The primary mission of the center is to better understand the complex chemical, biological and physical processes that occur in the critical zone and thereby to improve the environmental health of Delaware, Sparks said. The state is located at the center of one of the most heavily populated regions of the United States and is seeing rapid growth in coastal and rural areas. That, coupled with industrial pollution and intensive animal agricultural production, is placing increased pressure on already fragile terrestrial and coastal marine environments.
The center will bring together faculty from a number of outstanding departments and programs at UD, including soil science, marine science, chemistry and biochemistry, climatology, materials science and engineering. Additionally, UD has strengths in environmental policy in the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy and in the College of Marine and Earth Studies.
Research on issues of importance in the critical zone has been identified as a priority by the Delaware Science and Technology Council, which is chaired by Carney, and by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.
A team of UD faculty will lead the center with management support through the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. It will be an extension of the Delaware Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR program), which is funded by NSF and focuses on complex environmental systems and ecosystem health.
The steering committee for the center includes Sparks, as well as fellow UD faculty J. Thomas Sims, T.A. Baker Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences; George W. Luther III, Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Marine Studies; S. Craig Cary, professor of marine biology and biochemistry; David L. Kirchman, Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Marine Studies; Dominic M. Di Toro, Edward Davis Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; John F. Rabolt, Karl W. and Renate Bšer Professor of Materials Science Engineering; Stanley I. Sandler, Henry Belin du Pont Chair of Chemical Engineering; Thomas P. Beebe, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Murray V. Johnston III, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and John M. Byrne, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and director of UD's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy.
It is hoped the center will serve as a portal through which state officials and policy makers can gain insight into important issues surrounding the critical zone, Sparks said.
As key parts of that initiative, the scientists called for the development of an international Critical Zone Exploration Network and a systematic approach to the investigation of processes in the critical zone across a broad array of sciences, including geology, soil science, biology, ecology, chemistry, geochemistry, geomorphology and hydrology.
Article by Neil Thomas