In order to understand the Earth as one system and find effective solutions for global challenges, German Geosciences need to be modernised with Earth System Science as the future operating framework. This is the recommendation made by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in its Report on Tomorrow’s Science “Earth System Science: Discovery, Diagnosis, and Solutions in Times of Global Change” published today. The report provides an overview of the field of research and proposes steps to be taken to establish the concept.
Human actions are increasingly jeopardising Earth System stability and in turn the well-being of future generations. According to the authors of the Report on Tomorrow’s Science, global society needs to take action now. Humankind must act as quickly as possible to develop and implement solutions to mitigate climate change, sustainably exploit food sources, raw materials, water, land and oceans, anticipate and mitigate natural hazards, and monitor and assess critical trajectories of Earth System components.
Geosciences have an important part to play in overcoming these challenges. They have, however, always been divided up into many separate disciplines and subdisciplines at German universities and research institutions. “Earth System Science can provide the interdisciplinary framework required to better integrate the separate Geoscience subdisciplines so they can be used effectively to overcome global challenges,” says geologist Onno Oncken, Member of the Leopoldina and speaker of the Earth System Science working group responsible for the Report on Tomorrow’s Science. Earth System Science views the Earth as a dynamic system of interacting physical, chemical and biological processes. These processes connect and influence the individual components of the Earth System, which comprises the hydrosphere (water), the atmosphere (air), the biosphere (living organisms) and the geosphere (solid parts of the Earth).
The key concept of Earth System Science is to take advantage of technological advances in the natural sciences, computing and engineering, with a transdisciplinary and digital focus. The Report on Tomorrow’s Science suggests designing a national roadmap to build and interconnect Earth observation capacity as a way of identifying and monitoring changes to the Earth System and using them to predict future developments. In this context, digital infrastructure and capacity for processing large volumes of data (Big Data) will also need to be expanded.
The authors call for university education to be adapted with Earth System Science as the operating framework, with a greater focus on solving future problems in an Earth System context in curricula and the option of studying for a degree in Earth System Science. Aspects of Earth System Science should also be incorporated into school curricula.
In its Report on Tomorrow’s Science format, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina addresses questions surrounding the development of science in the medium and long term, which are highly relevant for the relationship between science, politics and society.