Challenges and opportunities for research in tectonics: Understanding deformation and the processes that link Earth systems, from geologic time to human time. A community vision document submitted to the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Huntington, K. W.
Klepeis, K. A.
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Geoscience is an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor, and one of the most interdisciplinary geosciences is tectonics. Embracing experimental, observational, and theoretical perspectives, tectonics focuses on the interactions among various components of Earth and planetary systems as they evolve over many spatial and temporal dimensions. Many of the products of these interactions—from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and landslides to water, mineral and energy resources—have important human consequences. Thus, in addition to contributing to a deeper understanding of planetary dynamics, tectonics research routinely addresses issues essential to human societies. The distinctions between “pure science” and “applicationinspired” aspects of tectonics are rapidly blurring, and the time is ripe to re-visit our traditional definition of tectonics as a field within the geosciences and re-imagine it for the 21st Century. In doing so, we have an opportunity to identify newly emergent opportunities and the key technological and infrastructure requirements for breakthrough research. A year and a half of community-wide discussion of future research opportunities resulted in the identification of five “grand challenges” that will inspire tectonics research over the next decade and beyond: ü Understanding planetary evolution in four dimensions ü Understanding the dynamic interactions among Earth-surface processes and tectonics ü Understanding variations in rheology throughout the lithosphere ü Understanding fault zone behavior from Earth’s surface to the base of the lithosphere ü Meeting societal needs while advancing research in structural geology and tectonics This community vision extends beyond understanding the processes we can observe at Earth’s surface in the present day to explore planetary system evolution in four dimensions: over three spatial dimensions at scales ranging from nano to global, and across the fourth dimension of time over scales of seconds to billions of years.