The Critical Zone

Lesson Overview


In this first lesson, you work through a broad introduction to the Critical Zone, which will include the history and development of the Critical Zone concept. You will find that I have assigned a report from a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored workshop on the Critical Zone and sections from a National Research Council (NRC) book cited in the Critical Zone workshop report. Not only do I want you to understand the term Critical Zone, but I also want you to understand the most basic processes that occur in the zone and to appreciate why it is important to understand the Critical Zone. Furthermore, I want you to read and understand the role that the NSF and NRC play in developing and supporting scientific endeavors in our country — think about how their programs might help your own teaching!

What will we learn about in Lesson 1?

  • Definition of the Critical Zone--what is it?
  • The importance of the Critical Zone--why should we care?
  • Outstanding questions in Critical Zone science regarding:
    • ecosystem nourishment
    • soil and water resources
    • chemical and physical weathering
    • gas and particulate fluxes to the atmosphere
    • human (and other) perturbations

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson you should be able to:

  • define the Critical Zone and the importance of it to humanity
  • list some anthropogenic impacts on the zone
  • explain the four frontiers or driving questions of Critical Zone science — that an effort to organize an integrated national research effort has begun and that this course is organized to introduce you to the basic science that is applied to answer the driving questions.

What is due for Lesson 1?

Lesson 1 will take us one week to complete. As you work your way through these online materials for Lesson 1, you will encounter additional reading assignments and hands-on exercises and activities. The chart below provides an overview of the requirements for Lesson 1. For assignment details, refer to the lesson page noted.

Please refer to the Calendar in Canvas for specific time frames and due dates.

Lesson 1 assignments
Semester Project Identifying your project region and topic page 4 Post to the Lesson 1 - Semester Project Proposal dropbox in Canvas


If you have any questions, please post them to our Questions? discussion forum (not e-mail), located under the Discussions tab in Canvas. I will check that discussion forum daily to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate.