Overcoming Grand Challenges by Collaboration between Experimentalists and Modelers
Research in Earth-surface processes and subsurface stratal development is in a data-rich era with rapid expansion of facilities that produce tremendous digital data with time and space resolution far beyond what we can collect in the field. Despite these advances, sediment experimentalists are an example community in the “long tail”, meaning that their data are often collected in one-of-a-kind experimental set-ups and isolated from other experiments. Experimentalists also have a lot of “dark data” that are difficult or impossible to access through the Internet. The Sediment Experimentalist Network (SEN) was formed to address these challenges. Over the last three years, SEN launched a Knowledge Base website, held international workshops, and provided educational short courses. Through workshops and short courses, SEN has identified and shared experimental data best practices, developed metadata standards for data collection, and fostered data management and sharing efforts within the experimentalist community. Now is the time to extend this collaboration toward Earth-surface modelers to advance geoscience research and education. We identified three grand challenges for SEN: (1) How best to relate experiments to natural systems and theory, (2) How to ensure comparability of experimental results from disparate facilities, and (3) How to distinguish external versus intrinsic processes observed in experiments. Experimentalist-modeler collaborations are essential for achieving solutions to all of these grand challenges. Theoretical and numerical modeling based on first principles can help to extrapolate insight from experiments to field scales, to compare results from different lab facilities, and to decouple autogenic processes and allogenic forcings in geomorphology and stratigraphy. The experimentalist-modeler collaborative effort will result in tremendous opportunities for overcoming grand challenges in our communities.