Scientific Focus of LIFE


LIFE embraces understanding and predicting the Earth surface environment as the unifying theme of its activities, with a particular focus on vulnerability to change. The interconnected processes that shape Earth’s surface exhibit a wide range of complex dynamics, including thresholds and other forms of non-linear behavior. These complexities lead to steep gradients in vulnerability. Because sensitivity to change varies so much in space and time, mapping and quantifying vulnerability is critical to a sustainable future Earth. When vulnerability is high, small perturbations can lead to unexpectedly large changes – shifts in the system dynamics or transitions to alternate equilibrium states (Scheffer et al., 2009). Examples of these changes are many (e.g., abrupt river transitions, coupled landscape-ecosystem shifts, accelerated erosion, etc.), and scientific advances have not kept pace with identifying and mitigating our impact before these changes severely alter and/or degrade the surface environment.

LIFE will focus its international activities around two major research themes:
(1) Watershed vulnerability and resilience – We will emphasize the effects of climate and human actions (e.g., accelerating extremes, and land-use change) on sediment dynamics, landscape organization, river morphodynamics, hazards, and water quantity and quality. Our initial areas of research focus will include climate and landscape evolution, hazards, and topography-based prediction. 
(2) Delta vulnerability and resilience – We will emphasize understanding the interplay of sea level rise and upstream human interventions on delta eco-geomorphology, the evolution, and organization of deltas, and the connectivity of biophysical processes in deltaic environments. Our initial areas of research focus will include past and present delta dynamics, delta restoration, and building other delta connections. 
Visit our Watersheds and Deltas pages for more information!