By Kelsey Simpkins

Principal investigators
Holly Barnard; Eve-Lyn Hinckley; Katherine Lininger

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Collaboration + support
Colorado School of Mines; Critical Zone Collaboration Network; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR); Oregon State University; Penn State University; United States Geological Survey (USGS) University of California Santa Barbara; University of Nevada, Reno

 air, organisms, soil, water, rock

The critical zone is Earth's permeable near-surface layer: a living, breathing, constantly evolving boundary layer where rock, soil, water, air and living organisms interact.

Three CU Boulder faculty are leading a five-year, $6.9 million National Science Foundation grant to study the “critical zone”—from Earth’s bedrock to tree canopy top—in the American West.

Researchers will seek to uncover links between how water is stored in the critical zone and how that affects key processes in forest ecology, rock and soil chemistry, and water quality. This interdisciplinary work will also help predict how climate change might modify these interactions and change water—and therefore life in the West.

“The critical zone is the surface of the Earth that supports life,” said Holly Barnard, lead principal investigator, associate professor of geography and fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). “It very much influences our quality of life.”

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