Director's Statement

Directors statement

 Mission Statement:


The Institute for Crustal Studies fosters research focused on: 1) the evolution of the earth from its inception to present; 2) characterization of the physical, chemical, and biotic processes that modulate that evolution and control the distribution of natural resources; and 3) interactions among the solid earth, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere, including humans, that shape the earth's surface and impact society. This research encompasses intervals ranging from the duration of an earthquake to the time required to create a continent, and it critically depends on collaborative efforts among geologists, physicists, geographers, and chemists.


Director's Statement


Mission and Goals. Two overarching goals encompass most research conducted through the Institute for Crustal Studies: the first is to foster interdisciplinary research that broadens understanding of the evolution of the Earth from a geological, biological, and climatological perspective; and the second goal promotes research focused on the modern and recent processes that shape the Earth's surface and directly impact society. Topics like the assembly and break-up of continents and the evolution of life fall into the first category; whereas the second ranges from earthquake dynamics to water resources and climate change. With respect to the public, ICS promotes efforts to improve the teaching of science, to broaden communication to the public, and to guide the agenda of major research programs at the national or international level.


Evolution of Goals through Time. The Institute for Crustal Studies was initially conceived as an interdisciplinary unit focused on the Earth's crust: the evolution of the crust through time and space, the natural resources contained within the crust and at its surface, and the natural hazards that result from geological processes acting within it. Each of these topics remains a focus of considerable research at ICS.

Over the past decade, the research agenda has expanded to include a greater emphasis on landscape evolution, active tectonics, geomorphology, the evolution of life, astrobiology, and geologic education. Much of this expansion results from changes in the research personnel  affiliated with ICS (recent appointees versus departing professors, research scientists, post-docs, and graduate students), but some is a consequence of the transfer of grants and their administration from the former Department of Geological Sciences to ICS in 2001.


One pervasive theme in most ICS studies has been and remains an emphasis on time and the development of a temporal context within which to define events, rates, and interactions at scales ranging from seconds to billions of years. Reliable reconstructions of past events provides not only an understanding of how the Earth evolved, but also a template with which predictions can be made. Reconstruction of past climatic, tectonic, or biotic changes and the responses to those changes enables an informed assessment of the potential impacts of future changes.


A persistent goal of ICS has been to facilitate the smooth submission and administration of external grants in order to minimize the time and effort researchers must spend on essentially administrative activity. Similarly, in computing, ICS personnel make a concerted effort to anticipate problems, implement solutions, and stay current on rapidly evolving technologies.  Whereas room for improvement always exists, researchers who have left ICS for academic appointments at other universities consistently report that they greatly miss the efficiency, timeliness, and friendliness of the grants administration and computational services of ICS.


Contributions to UCSB. ICS provides an environment that promotes interdisciplinary research and facilitates scientific problem-solving that benefits from the integration of diverse expertise. For example, ongoing collaborations between researchers from Physics, Earth Science, Material Science, and Geography (among others) are exploring problems ranging from earthquake dynamics and complex systems to offshore oil seeps and greenhouse gases. Research scientists in ICS commonly participate in teaching courses through the Department of Earth Science. Many of the post-docs in ICS play a vital role in advising and educating graduate students. Over the past four years, an average of 40 graduate students have participated in and been supported by ICS research projects. With support from NSF, researchers from ICS take undergraduates, both as individual field assistants and in coordinated groups, on off-campus research experiences to sites in Antarctica, Asia, and New Zealand.


Evolving Research Trends. Over the past decade, the focus of ICS researchers on recent Earth history has increased. ICS-administered research on earthquake dynamics, active tectonics, hydrology, geomorphology, landscape evolution, and climate change now commonly encompass time scales ranging from the present back to 1000s of years. The reasons for this shift are multi-fold: the record of change (both historical and geological) is increasingly complete when approaching the present; the more recent record is commonly most relevant for examining societal impacts; and the nature of interactions among different components of the Earth system is most clearly analyzed when the record is most detailed and complete.


Some problems, however, cannot be reasonably addressed in this modern time frame or setting. For example, processes that happen over millions of years and deep within the Earth, evolutionary change before and after catastrophic events, and conditions with no modern analogue require careful reconstruction of the geologic record of the often distant past and are essential components of efforts to understand Earth history. These represent a persistent focus of many ICS researchers.


Public Outreach and Impact. Two ongoing ICS projects highlight an emphasis on improved teaching and communication of integrated Earth Science to the public. One is focused on development of online tools to support scientific inquiry, writing, and exploration in Earth Science. This integrates exploration of digital data sets with data analysis and synthesis and is pioneering innovative techniques for "calibrated peer review" of student writing. Another project involves the Education Multimedia Visualization Center and is focused on creating graphics and movies that capture provocative aspects of Earth history, evolution, and site-specific phenomena, such as animations that can be used in national parks. Outreach with the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum and local schools is ongoing.


Whereas no integrated policy-oriented effort currently exists among ICS researchers, numerous ICS participants work individually and in small teams to guide scientific policy and research agendas at the state, national, and international level. Several members work on guidance and oversight committees for Earthscope (the largest initiative in solid earth sciences ever in the US), others guide the scientific agenda for the Southern California Earthquake Center (one of the most successful STCs in the country), and still others are setting research agenda for the International Atomic Energy Agency's use of geochemical tracers.



Overview and Highlights. External funding to ICS has averaged about $3.4M/yr over the past 6 years, with the past year being a bit above average. Faculty and PI participation has continued its long-term upward trajectory, and other



measures of activity, such as grants submitted, the number of projects administered, overall funding, number of agencies to which grants are submitted, and the core budget remained steady. Several assistant researchers left this year to take positions at Stanford and Michigan. The continued attrition of top-notch assistant researchers to high-quality institutions bespeaks the high standards of achievement that characterize many of them. Such losses, however, represent a sustained drain on ICS resources and present a challenge in building a cadre of researchers that can rise through the ranks and take on new leadership positions.


New research using remote sensing of rainfall in high mountains has yielded insights on the inner workings of the South Asian monsoon and underpins a new understanding of where and why intense erosion occurs within the Himalaya. At the same time, new calibration of spatial variations in rates of erosion is permitting testing of theories linking climate, erosion, and tectonics.


Numerical combinations of Himalayan topography (1st panel) with new high-resolution rainfall data (2nd panel) allows calculation of spatial variations in stream power and erosion (4th panel). The 3rd panel shows the "standard" calculation for stream power that ignores rainfall differences and scales discharge as a function of drainage area. The effects of incorporating actual rainfall distributions is highlighted by the difference between the last two panels: power is much more spatially focused due to the irregular distribution of rain.


Well over a century of prospecting has produced a wealth of terrestrial fossil mammals in the high latitudes of South America, but sparse fossil collections characterize the rest of the continent.  Hence, the well-preserved fossils discovered by a team of paleontologists and geologists from ICS, The Field Museum, and the University of Chile, in a region from which no fossil mammals had been previously known, offer particularly significant new insights.  Moreover, interbedded volcanic deposits present an unusual opportunity to date the fossils radiometrically. These new dates, in conjunction with age-diagnostic fossils, indicate that these deposits span as many as five separate South American Land Mammal "ages", while only one other site in South America presents more than two superposed "ages".   Hence, these unique deposits preserve a window to the evolutionary history of numerous new species and genera over a 10-million-year interval and place each new fauna into both a temporal context, and in turn, the broader evolutionary framework.


Researchers at ICS are developing new analytical techniques that, when combined with improved instrumentation, are setting new standards for increasingly precise dating of Earth materials, measurement of erosion rates, and analysis of tectonic processes deep in the Earth. Some ICS discoveries based on innovative combinations of analytical techniques are promising to overturn key aspects of current theories of plate tectonics. In particular, emerging data indicates that vast areas of buoyant continental crust have been carried (subducted) to great depths and held there for tens of millions of year – much longer than was thought possible. The challenge now is to find why this happens – a current topic of ICS research.


For a research mission far above the Earth, in the area of astrobiology, a major effort is being put into development of a new instrument that will test for the present of organic molecules as it rides on a Martian rover.  In contrast, just below the Earth's surface, ICS researchers are using geochemical tracers to delineate groundwater pathways, calibrate subsurface geochemical reactions, and guide public policy in the regulation of groundwater.


Over the past several years under Jamie Steidl's direction, ICS researchers and technicians have developed experimental testing sites that are part of the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) effort. These are now fully operational and being utilized for ongoing seismic experiments. This same group also manages arrays of seismometers that are deployed in boreholes from California to Alaska to measure seismic shaking as a function of depth, soils, and rock type. We anticipate that the NEES effort will continue to blossom into  expanding research opportunities in seismological sciences and engineering.

Summary. For ICS, 2005-2006 has been a "typical" year in the sense that results from this year are consistent with the steadily rising long-term trends of the past 8 to 10 years in terms of funding, participation, and contributions. More researchers are involved with guiding and formulating regional and national research agendas. The major staff positions in ICS have remained stable, and the computational infrastructure has been improved. This year was our third-highest year for new external funding, and we anticipate sustaining these long-term trends in growth.



1140 Girvetz Hall, University of California, Santa Barbara 93106-1100 • 893-8231
page last modified on: 2006-08-18

Cover Page | Table of Contents | Prev Page | Next Page
Contact ICS Office Manager | Annual Reports Page | ICS Home Page

Copyright © 2006 The Regents of the University of California, All Rights Reserved.
1140 Girvetz Hall, University of California, Santa Barbara 93106-1100 • 893-8231.
Contact ICS