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The recognition, quantification, and mechanistic explanation of coupled processes with cascading effects is a daunting task, but fundamental insights into earth’s surface can be gleaned from systematic cross-disciplinary studies of natural processes. Changes due to naturally occurring impulses on the earth’s surface, its landforms, biotic characteristics and superposed climatic conditions will provide us with a unique laboratory that affords the analysis of natural experiments. Such experiments range from nano- to landscape scales and from seconds to million-year time scales.
The principal aim of the research initiative NEXUS: Earth Surface Dynamics is to develop an in-depth understanding of the coupled processes in the geo, bio, and climate spheres at and near the Earth’s surface. We will focus on highly non-linear changes that may trigger cascading effects and feedbacks in the flows of energy, mass, and information through the system. We study the consequences of perturbations, including earthquakes, floods, wildfires, species invasion, the demise of glaciers and ice caps, and the rapid rise in sea level at the end of an ice age.