Critical Zone

The Critical Zone is a concept that covers the thin layer of the Earth’s surface, from the top of vegetation, to the bottom of fresh groundwater. It allows for transformations ranging from the physical, biological, and chemical, that sustains most life. This approach encourages interdisciplinary study and brings together varying Earth science fields.

showing Earth's layers of air, organisms, soil, water, rock
Diagram of the critical zone

Illinois professor Dr. Praveen Kumar’s research stresses the matter of hydrocomplexity, looking into the interactions of water and the environment, and how we can better anticipate, and solve, many of mankind’s struggles with water-sustainability. His work has looked at how changes in rainfall, both in extreme and non-extreme weather, affect different locations in the Critical Zone. The goal is to help better understand how our environment will adapt and react to climate change. 

  • Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory is where the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department which Dr. Kumar is affiliated with.

Chorover, J., R. Kretzschmar, F. Garcia-Pichel, and D. L. Sparks (artwork by R. Kindlimann), CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons 

Civil and Environmental Engineering. (n.d.) Praveen Kumar. Civil & Environmental Engineering.  

Kumar, Praveen, et al. “Anthropogenic Reorganization of Critical Zone in Intensively Managed Landscapes.” AGU, AGU, 15 Dec. 2016,  

Yoksoulian, L. (2018, August 28). Connectivity explains ecosystem response to rainfall, drought. Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Yoksoulian, L. (2017, September 19). Changes in nonextreme precipitation may have not-so-subtle consequences. Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

White, Timothy, et al. “Chapter 2 The Role of Critical Zone Observatories in Critical Zone Science.” Developments in Earth Surface Processes, Elsevier.

Contributors: Michael Lok