What is the Critical Zone?

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The Critical Zone supports terrestrial life on Earth. It is the region above and below the Earth surface, extending from the tops of the trees down through the subsurface to the bottom of the groundwater. It is a living, breathing, constantly evolving boundary layer where rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms interact. These complex interactions regulate the natural habitat and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources, including our food production and water quality.

Critical Zone scientists work to discover how this living skin is structured, evolves, and provides essential functions that sustain life.

The national Critical Zone Observatory Network is made up of nine environmental observatories each located in a different climatic and geologic setting. CZO scientists observe and measure a set of common parameters at each site. Building a common set of measurements across a diverse range of environmental conditions allows scientists to examine the underlying factors responsible for ecosystem growth and resilience.

Through interdisciplinary investigation, CZ scientists help us understand the essential functions that sustain life on Earth. Explore the Critical Zone through this introductory video.

This project is in partnership with the Paleontological Research Institution and funded by the National  Science Foundation. 

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