A little over six years ago I took the reins of AGU’s then-new journal Earth’s Future. The AGU committee that appointed me as Editor in Chief told me to make the journal matter to a broad swath of the geosciences community, to serve the public debate about our shared future, and not to screw up AGU’s venture into open-access publishing. With that rousing endorsement, a dozen papers in the hopper, and a small team of newly minted editors, we embarked on that journey in late 2013. We set the stage in an Editorial.
Earth’s Future is a transdisciplinary science journal that examines the state of the planet and its inhabitants, resilient societies, sustainability, and predictions of our future. It assesses the challenges and opportunities of an era marked by human domination of Earth’s environment, resources and ecosystems. Recognizing Earth as an interconnected and evolving system, publications inform researchers, policy makers and the public on the science of the Anthropocene.
Our first few years saw limited submissions, as expected, because the journal was new and untried, and used the open-access model for publication—the author pays. Several outstanding publications quickly left a mark, however. We published pioneering papers on climate warming, sea-level rise, ocean plastics, fossil-fuel power plant emissions, food, coastal inundation and water sustainability challenges, cementing the goals, scope and values of the journal. Only modest AGU/Wiley charges helped to convince authors to adopt the open-access publication model for their research outcomes.
In addition to traditional scientific papers, we encouraged a novel type of short- and long-form scientific commentaries offering perspectives based on data analysis, distinguishing them from opinion pieces in newspapers, magazines and blogs. Dozens of these vignettes were published, focusing on the challenges and responsibilities of modern human society, and serving the need for authoritative insights for a broad audience.
Recognizing that societal resilience is underrepresented in the scientific debate, we encouraged articles that deal with the immediate impacts of environmental change; for example, Toward a Resilient Global Society: Air, Sea Level, Earthquakes, and Weather.
We also decided to be open to publishing papers on controversial science and solutions, such as solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal, and raised the alarm about underreported challenges, such as nuisance flooding, and the compound impact of cascading hazards.
Many of these publications were able to catch the public eye, including front-page coverage in major news outlets.
The quality of early publications quickly grew the reputation and impact of the journal, and, after only a few years, we were receiving more than 250 papers per year. The evaluation of submissions benefits from excellent reviews and critical assessment by a small team of informed Editors (we chose not have Associate Editors on our Editorial Board), resulting in an average paper acceptance rate of about 40%.
The reach of Earth’s Future papers is quantitatively measured by journal citations, which have similarly been growing. By late 2019, the journal had published more than 400 papers since its launch and had a two-year impact factor of 5.8. These metrics place the journal in the elite upper 10% of peer publications.
An equally important measure of impact is reference to published papers in the media, both professional and social, which is tracked by Altmetric scores. Postings about scientific studies on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, reach engaged citizens and reporters, as well as the scientific community, and really have a positive knock-on effect on the journal. Likewise, press releases by the authors’ institution or by AGU’s press team have furthered the visibility of many studies.
I have passed the Editor in Chief baton into the steady hands of Amir Aghakouchak, who has been part of the journal’s editorial team. AGU’s Council provided a framework for the journal when it started in 2013. We evolved its vision and the journal’s future under new management is bright.
I wish to thank my fellow Editors, AGU staff, our amazing authors, and committed reviewers for enabling a rewarding personal journey and making Earth’s Future a leading voice in support of today’s debates about our planet and our future. Its scientific contributions will continue to move the public conversation, promote informed decision-making and encourage urgent actions, as we continue through the Early Anthropocene.