We Need Your Input!!!

The National Research Council (NRC) committee on Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences invites the submission of ideas from the scientific community to describe a few grand challenges that appear to have the greatest scientific importance, research potential and practical value..... We Need Your Input!!!
Background Information

Statement of Task

Committee Membership
Anticipated Result
Meeting Schedule

We Need Your Input!!!


The National Research Council (NRC) has been asked by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to identify grand challenges in the arena of environmental sciences. NSF places a high value on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches because it believes many interesting environmental problems transcend traditional science disciplines, although those disciplines are essential components of any research program. Therefore, the NSF is seeking advice from the scientific community on research initiatives and programs that would address scientific (not management) uncertainties in environmental science. These initiatives will likely involve researchers from a variety of disciplines and will likely be relevant to the research mandates of several federal agencies. Policy implications of scientific research are of course important, because public funding of research is based at least in part on the premise that there will be benefits to the public. However, because NSF is a science agency, its motivation is primarily scientific.

Understanding our environment has long been an important part of the science enterprise, and it is becoming increasingly important as increases in human populations and economic activities intensify the interactions between human activities and the environment. Many environmental fluctuations occurred long before humans arrived on the scene, and those fluctuations continue; some of them are also being modified in intensity and frequency by human activities. All of the fluctuations affect human activities to a greater or lesser extent, and so understanding them and their effects is a major challenge to both the natural and the social sciences. In seeking to identify the most important and challenging scientific questions in environmental science, NSF hopes to help set direction for research that will move our basic understanding forward in critical areas.


The committee will conduct a study to identify and prioritize grand challenge research opportunities in environmental sciences. The study will not specifically consider activities being conducted or sponsored by NSF or other government agencies, industry, and international partners; instead, it will try to identify on a scientific basis the most important and challenging scientific questions in environmental science. Environmental science is to be broadly defined, including social sciences and engineering. The study will define grand challenges and will provide the criteria by which potential research areas are considered to qualify as grand challenges. The study will identify and describe the few grand challenges that appear to have the greatest scientific importance and research potential with a clear effort to set priorities and to document the scientific reasons for its choices. A specific effort will be made to identify multidisciplinary approaches to identifying and researching the questions. The committee's approach will include a time-span of approximately 20-30 years for scientific questions, i.e., it will consider questions and environmental changes that are likely to be important over that period, rather than focusing only on today's scientific questions. The committee will also consider environmental challenges on a global basis, but will focus its attention on those questions also scientifically and environmentally important in a North American context. In addition, the committee will identify and briefly describe, but not analyze or make recommendations concerning, factors that may affect the successful pursuit of a multidisciplinary research agenda. Those factors likely will include education, institutional organizations, and infrastructural elements such as data collection and management.


The anticipated result of the project is a report containing findings and recommendations regarding grand challenge research priorities in environmental sciences. The report will describe the criteria for identifying and describing a few major scientific questions, document the reasons for choosing them, and prioritize them in terms of research. The report will be subject to standard NRC review procedures, will be made available to the public without restrictions, and will be produced in sufficient quantity to ensure adequate public distribution in accordance with NRC policy. The report also will be posted on the relevant pages of the NAS World Wide Web site.

This page was created by Tracie Holby.
Last Updated on 2/17/99