Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Chemical, physical, biotic, and human processes constantly reshape Earth's surface from particles to continents, over timescales from nanoseconds to millions of years. These processes form a complex network of interactions and feedbacks, but these interplays are not well understood, and challenging questions face science and society: How did Earth surface processes interact to create the landscapes of today? How will changing processes shape Earth's surface in coming years? This report identifies nine grand challenges in the emerging science of Earth surface processes, and proposes four high-priority research initiatives to reach a new understanding of the processes that build the planet's dynamic surface and underpin its habitability.

Key Messages

  • A set of mathematical laws is needed to allow researchers to understand the rate of Earth surface processes such landslides and glacial erosion
  • An understanding of the linkage among living ecosystems and landscapes will be needed to fully understand Earth's changing surface
  • Earth's surface is a record of previous environmental conditions that could reveal information about the planet's future
  • Information is limited about why some landscapes are more resilient than others to change
  • Research on how humans will shape Earth's surface is needed
  • There are nine grand challenges facing the field of Earth surface processes that provide opportunities for progress