At the Earth's surface, a complex suite of chemical, biological, and physical processes combines to create the engine that transforms bedrock into soil (Figure 1). Earth's weathering engine provides nutrients to nourish ecosystems and human society mediates the transport of toxic components within the biosphere, creates water flow paths that carve and weaken bedrock, and contributes to the evolution of landscapes at all temporal and spatial scales. At the longest time scales, the weathering engine sequesters CO2, thereby influencing long-term climate change.
Despite the importance of soil, our knowledge of the rate of soil formation is limited because the weathering zone forms a complex, ever-changing interface, and because scientific approaches and funding paradigms have not promoted integrated research agendas to investigate such complex interactions. No national initiative has promoted a systems approach to investigation of weathering science across the broad array of geology, soil science, ecology and hydrology. Such a program is certainly needed, and this article describes a platform on which to build the initiative to answer the following question: How does the Earth weathering engine break down rock to nourish ecosystems, carve errestrial landscapes, and control carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere?