Translating Critical Zone research into actionable management practices.


Earth's Critical Zone (CZ) is the thin near-surface zone spanning from bedrock to the atmospheric boundary layer. Since the mid-2000s, scientists have been viewing this zone through a new interdisciplinary lens that brings together biology, soil science, geology, hydrology, and meteorology to make co-located measurements of chemical and biological transport and transformation that describe past landscape evolution and improve projections of future conditions. This interdisciplinary approach has precipitated important insights that link hydrology, weathering rates, soil characteristics, nutrient availability, microbial process, and plant dynamics. Many of these insights would have been realized at a much slower pace had we continued to tackle them with disciplinary approaches. CZ research has mainly focused on basic science, but there is no need for this to be the case, this SAFES initiative will continue transdisciplinary discovery, while at the same time representing one of the first initiatives to translate CZ discoveries into management applications, initiating a reciprocal feedback between basic CZ science and management

We have used a “place-based" model for CZ research, with a focal watershed being the Shale Hills Catchment and additional satellite locations throughout the Shaver's Creek watershed. Since 1958 Penn State scientists have been making observations in these catchments, located about ten miles south of the University Park campus in the Penn State Stone Valley Forest. Designated a Critical Zone Observatory in 2007 with funding from the National Science Foundation, the site has since expanded with equipment installations across 163 km2 of the watershed coupled to numerical models that help the scientists understand how watersheds over different types of bedrock evolve over multiple time scales. Our interdisciplinary team of scientists across more than fifteen disciplines in three colleges is currently executing experiments and building on legacy data with new measurements and model development.


Jason Kaye, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Soil Biogeochemistry
Chair of Ecology Intercollege Graduate Degree Program

Associated Members



Related Projects

Penn State Projects

Funded Projects

Related College of Agricultural Sciences Research Impact Areas