Teaching in the (critical) zone: Linking land management and Earth system processes at the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory

Friday 3:00pm-4:00pm Student Union: Ballroom B
Poster Session Part of Friday Session


Katherine O'Neill, Roanoke College
The Earth's critical zone (CZ) represents the upper layer of the Earth's surface (referred to by the National Science Foundation as the zone where 'rock meets life') that provides the resources and services critical for sustaining living systems. CZ science is explicitly interdisciplinary and integrates components of the Earth, life, and atmospheric sciences, the social sciences, and the environmental humanities and, thus, provides a rich opportunity for engaging environmental and geoscience students in critical thinking about the interdependencies between human well-being and the Earth's outer layers. Here, we discuss the development of place-based, interdisciplinary educational materials using emerging research from the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory (CZO), one of a network of ten terrestrial observatories funded by NSF. Like much of the southern Piedmont, the landscape represented by the Calhoun CZO was severely impacted by agricultural soil erosion and water degradation later followed by land abandonment and reforestation. The imprint of these historical land management practices can still be observed today throughout much of the region. Together, historic and contemporary data from the Calhoun CZO provide a rich opportunity to explore Earth science research within the context of land management, environmental history, and socio-cultural institutions. Rather than organizing activities by academic discipline, visualization and geospatial platforms such as Google Earth and ESRI Story Maps are used to frame integrative earth systems processes within narrative contexts that help students to make more direct connections between human well-being and the health of the land itself.