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Reflections on Earth surface research

To celebrate the first anniversary of Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, we asked six researchers investigating Earth surface processes to outline notable developments within their discipline and provide thoughts on important work yet to be done.

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L.D. was supported by ‘Investissements d’avenir’ ANR-17-MPGA-009 and NSF 1660923.

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Authors and Affiliations



Irasema Alcántara-Ayala is a former Director and current Professor and Researcher at the Institute of Geography at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Her research seeks to understand the root causes and drivers of disaster risk through forensic investigations of disasters, and to promote integrated research on disaster risk. She is particularly interested in bridging the gap between science and policymaking and practice in the developing world. She has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, among them, the 2009 TWAS Young Affiliate Fellow, 2011 TWAS Young Scientists Award, 2012 Young Scientists Research Award of the Mexican Academy of Sciences and the Sergey Soloviev Medal of the European Geosciences Union in 2016.

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is a Professor of Soil Biogeochemistry, Ted and Jan Falasco Chair in Earth Sciences and Geology at the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Interim Associate Dean of the Graduate Division at University of California, Merced. Her research interest lies at the intersection of soil science, global change science and political ecology, and seeks to improve our understanding of how the soil system regulates the Earth’s climate and the dynamic two-way relationship between soil and human communities. She has published more than 100 publications and received several awards and honours, and is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America.

Louis Derry is a Professor of Geological Sciences at Cornell University and a Professeur Associé at Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. He is the former Director of the Critical Zone Observatories National Office (USA) and a PI in the Make Our Planet Great Again programme of the Agence National de la Recherche (France). His group works on coupled geochemical and hydrological processes in the Critical Zone, modelling the global carbon cycle over multiple timescales and the relationship between landscape evolution and hydrological and geochemical fluxes. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Co-Editor-in-Chief for the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Vamsi Ganti is an Assistant Professor of Geomorphology and Land Surface Processes at the Department of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His group combines theory, physical experiments and field observations to quantify the mechanics of physical processes that shape landscapes on Earth and other planets, and to decode the information about these processes stored in the ancient sedimentary record. Vamsi’s work has been recognized by multiple awards, including the American Geophysical Union’s Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award, Robert Sharp Lecture and the Horton Research Grant.

Alice A. Horton is an Anthropogenic Contaminants Scientist at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK. Her research primarily focuses on microplastics and organic chemical contaminants in the aquatic environment: their accumulation, behaviour and ecological effects. She has a BSc in Biology, an MSc in Oceanography and a PhD in Ecotoxicology. She has previously held a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship and continues to work closely with stakeholders to integrate academic research with industry, policymakers and businesses to efficiently address the many remaining questions on microplastics within the environment. She is a member of the Royal Society of Biology and is a Chartered Biologist.

Min Sub Sim is an Associate Professor of Geomicrobiology at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Seoul National University, South Korea. At the interface between microbiology and geology, his research has focused on the interpretations of geochemical and isotopic biosignatures in modern and past environments, grounded in microbial physiology and biochemistry.

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Correspondence to Irasema Alcántara-Ayala, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Louis Derry, Vamsi Ganti, Alice A. Horton or Min Sub Sim.

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Alcántara-Ayala, I., Berhe, A.A., Derry, L. et al. Reflections on Earth surface research. Nat Rev Earth Environ 2, 15–20 (2021).

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