Over the last three decades, scientists who study the Earth?s sedimentary crust and the history of life have conducted innumerable workshops and produced dozens of white papers outlining critical research opportunities in the disciplines. This community may represent the most integrative part of the earth sciences. The community addresses issues of the history of life on Earth and the dynamics of evolution and extinction, the history of climate and climate dynamics, and the history of sedimentation and the dynamics of sedimentary basins. The entire record of climate and life is preserved in sedimentary rocks, and is understood through integrated studies of tectonics, climate, life, and sedimentology. Our sample of modern processes is limited yet understanding of these processes is important to many societal concerns. Fundamental knowledge about these processes is recorded in the sedimentary record. Without understanding the full range of process behavior we do not truly understand processes such as climate change, extinction, and resource distribution and quality. This workshop will integrate research opportunities identified by the community over the last several years in order to provide a framework for moving forward with major research initiatives. Intellectual merit: The consolidation of the common themes put forth by the sedimentary geology and paleontology community will provide focus for a major research initiative in critical areas. Broader impacts: Much of the community?s work is focused on societal concerns such as earth resources, climate change, and extinctions. This work can be carried forward with much greater impact if the initiatives to be framed here go forward.

Project Report

The purpose of this workshop was to identify common goals for the entire community of sedimentary geologists and paleobiologists in order to craft a major initiative for the funding of these groups. Sedimentary geologists and paleobiologists play critical roles in many areas of public concern, from exploration for sedimentary rock-based resources (oil, gas, coal, and many others) to climate change. The workshop participants reviewed reports spanning more than 10 years and found that the community has consistently emphasized one major intellectual challenge. This challenge is that we do not fully understand the full range within which Earth processes operate, and that the reason for that is that funding has emphasized study of the last 2 million years, during which Earth processes have operated within a very narrow range. In addition, in order to fully understand these processes, the community requires three critical tools: continental drilling, which allows us to access important, pristine, high-resolution records of past climates; geochronology, which allows us to put precise dates on these records; and cyperinfrastructure, including interoperable databases. An example of why this work is important is that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are much higher than they have been at any time in the last 2 million years. The last time carbon dioxide was this high was 23 million years ago. Thus, to understand how climate is likely to respond to rising carbon dioxide levels, we need to be studying climate change that old and older. As a result of this workshop, the participants sought funding for a larger workshop to write a science plan for a funding initiative to accomplish this work.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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H. Richard Lane
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University of Idaho
United States
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