Group Calls on U.S. to Study Businesses' Resource Use

Group Calls on U.S. to Study Businesses' Resource Use

Scientists yesterday listed eight issues they think demand the most attention and funding from the federal government, including climate change, biodiversity and institutions and resource use, according to a study sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

A committee of scientists asked colleagues around the world to tell them what problems needed to be addressed, and where federal research dollars should be directed for the most good.

The report was written by the National Academies' National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, on request by the National Science Foundation.

Scientists want government funding to immediately focus on four areas of research: biodiversity and ecosystem functioning; hydrologic forecasting; infectious disease and the environment; and land-use dynamics.

It was estimated that each of the four would require a minimum investment of some $1 billion to $2 billion over 10 years.

The eight issues are:
  • Biogeochemical cycles. Scientists said six nutrient elements -- carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus -- make up 95% of the biosphere and form the biochemical foundation for life.

    A major challenge for many scientific disciplines is to understand how changes in the balance of these nutrients in soil, water, and air affect the functioning of ecosystems, atmospheric chemistry and human health, the report said.

  • Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. An improved understanding is needed of the factors -- including human activities -- that affect biodiversity, and of how biodiversity relates to the overall functioning of an ecosystem.

  • Climate variability. Scientists need a better understanding of how the earth's climate varies over a wide range of time scales, from extreme storms to changes in whether patterns. Vital areas of research include improving observational capabilities and extending the record of weather measurements further back into earth's history.

  • Hydrologic forecasting. More research is needed to help predict changes in freshwater resources and the environment caused by floods, droughts, sedimentation and contamination.

  • Infectious disease and the environment. To prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases in plants, animals, and humans, scientists need to understand how pathogens, parasites, and disease-carrying species, as well as the humans and other species they infect, are affected by the environment.

  • Institutions and resource use. More information is needed about how the condition of natural resources is shaped by markets, governments, international treaties and laws.

  • Land-use dynamics. Human alteration of the earth's surface, especially through tropical deforestation, has been so dramatic that it approaches the levels of transformation that occurred during the glacial periods, and has been a key factor in global climate change and reduced biodiversity.

  • Reinventing the use of materials. Additional data are needed on reusable metals such as copper and zinc, hazardous metals such as mercury and lead, reusable plastics and alloys, and ecologically dangerous compounds such as pesticides.