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Cinzia Cervato, Geological & Atmospheric Sciences, (515) 294-7583
Dave Gieseke, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Public Relations,
(515) 294-7742,


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University will serve as the lead institution for a new National Science Foundation (NSF) two-year, $2 million grant.

Cinzia Cervato, assistant professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, is coordinating the project (CHRONOS, which means time in Greek) that currently includes the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, the U.S. Geological Survey, Purdue University and the San Diego Super Computer Center.

CHRONOS, a continually expanding network of individual databases linked by geologic time, will eventually deliver a dynamic, interactive and time-calibrated framework for Earth system history as a network of comprehensive databases. The network will contain information related to the evolution and diversity of life, climate change, geochemical cycles, geodynamical processes and other aspects of the Earth system.

Cervato says that research on the evolution of Earth and life on the planet depends increasingly upon the analysis of large amounts of data from numerous sources.

"Right now, that process is time-consuming and error-prone because there are no centralized depositories or Web-enabled means of locating and retrieving data," she said.

The CHRONOS system will serve as a major portal for geological research and outreach, equipped with powerful, interactive analytical and visualization toolkits to enable the exploration and understanding of Earth. Cervato says that with state-of-the-art information technologies and advanced correlation tools, the implementation of CHRONOS will result in much more reliable global and regional geological time scales.

"There are so many questions that we are not yet able to give more accurate answers to without a good time scale," she said. "For instance, the timing of the extinction of the dinosaurs will be one area we will examine. We will be able to put together so much data to make the geologic time scale better and more refined.

"By putting events into sequence we will be able to see how life evolved, how the climate changed, how the ice sheets grew and then melted away."

Future plans include the development of an outreach program with educational modules, visualization tools, and informative demonstrations of the CHRONOS system and the study of four critical time-slices of Earth history as "test-bed" investigations.

"Our goal is not only to make the CHRONOS system available to the scientific community, but the general public as well," Cervato said. "We want to make this as widely accessible as possible."

The multi-institution collaborative project will eventually involve scientists from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, MIT, Texas A&M University and several international institutions and scientific groups.


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