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The EarthTime Network

Developing an infrastructure for high-resolution calibration of Earth History

Project Summary
We propose to establish the coordinated infrastructure and analytical facilities necessary for the achievement of high-resolution calibration of at least the last 800 million years of Earth history under the community-based EARTHTIME initiative. The proposed EARTHTIME Network will be responsible for the organization and implementation through a four-tiered approach:

  1. develop and implement an organizational structure for this initiative;

  2. enhance the community wide integration of geochronology with paleontological studies through the establishment of a series of activities that focus on community involvement and inter-collaboration in the overall initiative;

  3. work with the community (domestic and international) to define the rationale and detailed specifications for three or more geochronological nodes dedicated to time-scale calibration; these nodes will include both instrumentation and personnel; and

  4. develop an aggressive program of education and public outreach focused on both earth scientists as well as the general public.

Our proposed approach will involve three major phases. This proposal seeks funding for the first phase. Phase I is the establishment of the organizational infrastructure necessary for implementation of the EARTHTIME initiative, the minimization of interlaboratory and inter-technique biases through the process of developing community isotopic and geochronological standards and a strong educational outreach program. Phase II involves ramping up analytical facilities for existing and new geochronological facilities that are committed to the goals of the initiative. Science proposals submitted to existing EAR programs will form Phase III. We emphasize that this proposal will cover only the development of the infrastructure and improvement in analytical tools needed to achieve these goals.

Figure 1. Graphical representation of the temporal relationships between major phases of EARTHTIME required for successful execution of the initiative.

EARTHTIME provides an excellent opportunity for education and public outreach on issues related to the societal importance of understanding geological time as well as the science of measuring geological time. We envision two different kinds of public outreach, the first will be geared towards the general public and will involve the development of short courses for elementary schools through high schools, displays in museums and an interactive website. The second will be focused on educating earth scientists about different geochronological techniques, how to choose the correct one for a problem, and the opportunity to get their hands dirty working in one of the EARTHTIME labs. We believe that both undergraduate and graduate students would benefit form exposure to the different techniques but in many cases are not because of simple issues such as a lack of funding to send them to a lab. Training of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers is a critical step towards gearing up for Phase II. We will strive to promote an improved balance of gender and ethnicity in this respect, given that white males have traditionally dominated geochronology.

Our proposed model for the calibration of the stratigraphic record easily could be expanded or duplicated to serve the equally pressing demands of the rest of the geoscience community for high-precision geochronology. All of the standardization of laboratory protocols and collaborative networks that will be established as part of our initiative are equally applicable to all geochronological techniques and applications. It is hoped that EARTHTIME can become a model for the future of geochronology in the earth sciences.

Figure 2. Schematic representation of the organizational structure for the EARTHTIME network illustrating the proposed links between the various nodes, working groups and Collaborative Research Groups. Interaction with NSF and other organizations will be channeled through the administration hub.

Proposed workshops
During the first five years of the EARTHTIME project, we expect to have a total of approximately 8 workshops with more than half in the first three years. These workshops will number from 20-40 members of the immediate community, and will be open to the broader community. Some of these workshops will involve resolving geochronological issues; others will focus on the integration of geochronology with other stratigraphic and correlation techniques; a third will focus on approaches to evolutionary rates in deep time; and the fourth will be outreach and education to the geoscience community, involving short courses and field conferences at meetings and conferences. In addition, a clear need has been established for the following topical workshops, which we expect to conduct during the first three years. Each workshop will include a dedicated link from the EARTHTIME website, including both public and participant areas. A report on each meeting will be compiled and made available over the EARTHTIME website. In addition, the meeting organizers will endeavor to prepare appropriate publications from each meeting, which could take the form of meeting reports, workshop proceeding, or other outcomes.