STARKVILLE, Miss.--History experts at Mississippi State University will play a critical role in a new $5 million National Science Foundation-funded study of South Carolina's Southeast Piedmont region.
MSU's Center for the History of Agriculture, Science and the Environment of the South--CHASES--will be a key partner in the NSF's newest appointed critical zone observatory, or CZO.
To study how centuries of soil erosion affect the Earth, CHASES will join principal awardee Duke University, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, universities of Georgia and Kansas, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Virginia's Roanoke College.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to bring together humanities and science research on a project with tangible long-term possibilities for both disciplines," said James C. Giesen, CHASES director. "This grant, and other grants awarded to CHASES faculty at MSU, is a sign that people across the country are recognizing our expertise in Southern agricultural, science and environmental history."
According to the MSU associate professor of history, CHASES's role at the CZO site will involve an examination of the region's environmental history. Particular attention will be given to the environmental record as it relates to nearly 150 years of intensive farming across the area, he said.
"Several generations of intensive crop production from Piedmont farmers, their slaves and tenants are a crucial factor in why this area is no longer tilled," he explained.
While the area being studied now is covered in pine forests and appears to be a healthy ecosystem, Giesen said that "underneath, the green canopy still bears the scars of this over-farming."
Using library archives and interviewing residents of the research-site area, the CHASES team's work will involve just one facet of a complex process to better understand the CZO holistically.
Over the next few years, he and faculty colleagues in science and social science will join together to research "the connection between human and natural forces in the shaping of this place," Giesen said.
Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director of geosciences, said CZO sites are ecosystems necessary to support life because of their abundance of clean water, food, nutrients and soil.
"Researchers at the CZO sites are investigating the past evolution and present state of the critical zone to predict how Earth's surface will evolve in response to future human activity and to climate change," he said when he announced grant recipients in January. "The results will provide the scientific basis for decision-making on how humans can best mitigate, adapt and respond to both slow and abrupt environmental changes."
Principal investigator Daniel Richter, a Duke professor of soils and forest ecology, called the initiative "a new approach to science in which multiple natural and social science disciplines and the humanities are brought together to explore the important questions of our time."
Additional information about CHASES is available at http://chases.msstate.edu.
For more about MSU, visit http://msstate.edu.