Critical Zone Science: a new scientific paradigm?

Monday, 15 December 2014
Jerome Gaillardet, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Paris, France, Laurent Longuevergne, CNRS, Paris Cedex 16, France, Guillaume Nord, LTHE Laboratoire d'étude des Transferts en Hydrologie et Environnement, Saint Martin d'Hères, France and Francois André, Observatory Midi-Pyrenees, Toulouse, France
The main merit of the Critical Zone (CZ) Science is to foster multidisciplinary approaches on one of the most important envelopes of our Planet, the zone on which humanity lives and on which humans develop their societies. Policy makers and stakeholders also require a more unified scientific vision on the behavior of the CZ.

The CZ science is not new and many communities have been doing CZ science for many decades. CZ-type observatories have been developed in most of the countries for different aims but generally lack of an integrated approach. When hydrologic measurements are made, they are generally not associated to geochemical measurements and the situation is worst for biological parameters. Instrumental geophysics of the CZ has done impressive progresses over the last decades but the misfit between the scientific questions and instrumental development is still a challenging issue.

We will take the example of the French initiatives to build up a wide community of CZ scientists (“critical zonists”) at the national scale taking into account decades of instrumentation and observation. More than creating new CZOs the French national research agencies helped foster collaboration between existing infrastructures by funding networking activities and developing significant investment programs for new equipment. We will review the main challenges of creating CZ networks based on existing funded research infrastructures and highlight the main instrumental challenges that need to be addressed to explore and understand the CZ in a modern way. The French initiatives mirror the European initiatives and the need for developing the links between the geo-centered initiative CZ concept and the ecology-centered concepts of LTER (and more recently LTSER) at the European scale. This willingness of linking historically separated communities is a stimulating opportunity for the advance of integrated Earth and Life sciences. As quoted by Bruno Latour (2014) the new environmental challenges that human beings are facing need a « compositionist » approach that the CZ concept is providing. This will benefit to science but also meet the new societal needs that the major environmental changes are creating.

Latour B. (2014) Some advantages of the notion of “Critical Zone” for Geopolitics. PROEPS, special issue August 2014.