Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

CU Boulder Team Granted $2.56M to Transform Earth Surface Science

“Cyberinfrastructure” award will help earth scientists understand our planet’s changing surface


The National Science Foundation has awarded a highly competitive grant to a team of scientists building OpenEarthScape, a set of models and simulations to help anticipate changes in river flow, beach erosion, landslides and more. The $2.56M grant will support five years of work by earth surface scientists, including modelers, who are determined to better understand the forces that re-shape our landscapes over hours to epochs. 

“This project develops software tools to make simulation modeling easier, more accessible, and more efficient, which speeds up discovery,” said Geology professor Gregory Tucker, a CIRES Fellow, and Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS). Tucker spearheads the new effort, which is collaborative with researchers at INSTAAR, Tulane University, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Washington, and Western Washington University. 

OpenEarthScape will be an integrated suite of community-developed cyber resources, Tucker said. He and his colleagues will focus on nine high-priority science frontiers: geohazards, water, basins, geologic records, topographic change, seafloor evolution, Arctic environments, the critical zone, and coastal ecosystems. Among the team’s development priorities:

  • Community-built software that is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable;
  • a hub for easy access to models, tools, and libraries; 
  • new capacity for creating and sharing reproducible model-data analysis packages; and
  • major enhancements to the current Landlab and PyMT libraries for model construction and coupling.

All models and software will be shared as open-source with the scientific community and the public.

OpenEarthscape members will also develop a web-hosted visual simulation of a continent that evolves in response to various geologic events. The simulator will provide students and the general public with an intriguing visualization of Earthscape dynamics and will serve as a template for the research community to identify gaps in understanding.

“What motivates me for this project is exposing a larger community to numerical models, to show what earth surface process models are capable of,” says Albert Kettner, an INSTAAR Fellow and a co-investigator on the project. “In doing so, it will also provide opportunities to identify gaps of what we can’t simulate yet, and hopefully inspire a growing modeling community to work on those knowledge gaps.”


CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.


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