Skip directly to content

National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics

Sub Type:
Research Areas:
NSF Award:

STC: National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

Reseach Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics (NCED) seeks to develop an integrated and predictive understanding of the processes shaping the surface of the Earth in order to transform management of ecosystems, resources and land use. The center’s multidisciplinary approach involves everything from hydrology and ecology to the social sciences. Center researchers and others could develop new insights into the history of the Mississippi Delta region from data collected by major oil companies and now being made available to the NCED. The data – detailed information about the region’s subsurface obtained by bouncing sound off the layers under the delta – had been kept largely in-house by the oil companies.

NCED focuses research on channel networks and their surroundings. The Center collaborates with applied partners to identify knowledge gaps and develop tools to forecast landscape evolution and guide landscape management, restore river systems, find and develop subsurface resources, and promote environmental awareness.

Research is organized into three Integrated Programs (IPs) that approach channel networks from a “source to sink” perspective. The Desktop Watersheds IP is designed to discover and advance the fundamental relationships needed to predict landscape evolution and to model the coupling of ecosystem, landscape, and land-use dynamics. The Stream Restoration IP advances the science and practice of stream restoration by conducting and coordinating research and by working with agency and industry partners to identify information needs, develop improved tools, and transfer this knowledge into practice. The Subsurface Architecture IP develops methods to extract quantitative information on structure and dynamics of earth layers and apply this information to landscape prediction and restoration.

Education and Outreach

The goal of NCED’s Education Initiative is to bring Earth-surface dynamics to life for a broad spectrum of learners, in order to educate future leaders in NCED’s key mission areas of land, resource, and ecosystem management. NCED approaches its education initiative through the development of informal as well as formal teaching tools and environments with strong connections between its research and education programs.

NCED works closely with many museums, including the Science Museum of Minnesota, to provide content and technology to help teach the public about Earth's dynamic surface. Recently, the Center worked with the Utah Museum of Natural History to provide a 3D image of the Wasatch Range for a new exhibit. As a member of the GeoWall Consortium, a project that makes use of an affordable projection system to visualize structure and dynamics of the Earth in stereo to aid the understanding of spatial relationships, NCED also regularly supplies imagery for use in museums and academic institutions on the GeoWall stereo and high resolution imaging systems. NCED has also teamed with the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (another NSF Science and Technology Center) to develop a 7,500 square foot traveling exhibition on water that uses innovative technology and interactive components to demonstrate the role that water plays in shaping the land and human communities.

For students all the way from K-12 to the graduate level, NCED promotes museum events, paid summer research experiences, networking opportunities, and much more. Across the board,  the Center supports a Diversity Initiative to increase participation by underrepresented groups in NCED scientific disciplines until minority representation is reflects the US national population, including a specific focus on improving representation of Native Americans in NCED-related disciplines.

Visit Web Site


  • Wax Lake Delta
Enhanced image of Wax Lake Delta.
Gary Parker, National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics