Community Report Recommendations: NASEMS 2020

NASEMS 2020: Catalyzing Opportunities for Research in the Earth Sciences (CORES): A Decadal Survey for NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences

As highlighted in New Research Opportunities in the Earth Sciences (NRC, 2012) and It’s About Time: Opportunities & Challenges for U.S. Geochronology (Harrison et al., 2015), significant issues exist with respect to providing the geochronologic information that is essential for current and future research in Earth science. Issues arise principally from the current funding model, in which most geochronology labs are supported mainly by awards to address specific science questions, with little or no funding awarded to support lab infrastructure, technique development, or educational/outreach activities.

Currently, non-geochronologists are frustrated by the high cost and long delays of acquiring the geochronologic information needed for their projects, and lab operators struggle to cover the costs of their operations. This has inhibited development of new instruments, techniques, and applications that will be needed to address future Earth science questions.

The U.S. geochronology community is ready to develop a consortium of geochronology labs that will be equipped to accomplish the following goals:

  1. Acquisition of the geochronologic information required for EAR-funded projects in a timely and cost-effective manner. A reasonable target would be to generate most types of geochronologic data in 3-6 months, at a cost that covers only the personnel and consumables needed to conduct the analyses.
  2. Support for geochronology labs to provide the information described above and to drive the development of new geochronologic instruments, methods, and applications. Examples of new capabilities needed for the future are as follows:
    • Increase mass spectrometer ionization efficiency to generate more precise ages, with greater efficiency, and on smaller volumes of material.
    • Improved determination of decay constants, which will improve the age accuracy.
    • Standards development for improved interlaboratory and intermethod calibration.
    • Enhanced capabilities to acquire geochemical and/or crystallographic data simultaneously with geochronologic information.
    • Development of emerging and new chronometers, especially those that record processes operating on short time scales near Earth’s surface or those that fill gaps in existing capabilities.
  1. Commitment to FAIR data policies for all chronometers, as well as development of computational tools that allow for more sophisticated methods of data analysis, visualization, integration with other types of data, and modeling.
  2. Improved education and training of geochronologic theory and practice in order to produce a new generation of highly diverse, cyber-savvy geochronologists; researchers who can effectively use geochronologic information; and better public understanding of why geochronology is important for societal

Following Harrison et al. (2015), the committee endorses the creation of a consortium that consists of larger laboratories, for example EAR-supported multi-user facilities, as well as single-investigator labs. Participating laboratories would commit to addressing the above goals, follow community-established protocols, and monitor outcomes through quantitative measures of success. The cost of developing and maintaining this consortium is estimated to be $8-10 million per year, some portion of which could be offset by lower sample analysis costs in future science proposals.

Recommendation: EAR should fund a National Consortium for Geochronology.