Lava lake, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, Hawaii. Credit: Thorsten Becker

For the Earth sciences, it has always seemed intuitively true that natural phenomena must be understood as intertwined elements in a gigantic system, rather than as independent processes. However, until recently we did not have the necessary knowledge or tools to create these complex systems and begin fitting the puzzle together. In the waning decades of the last century, a range of analytical and theoretical advances across fields made it possible to begin constructing quantitative models of how different components of the Earth, such as the climate system, interact with others, such as mantle convection. Life was another important part of the puzzle, and an explosion of tools and insights in the (then new) field of geobiology helped us fold evolution of the living world into our understanding of planetary history.

Right now, we are faced with fitting these puzzles together again, for other planets outside of our own solar system. Discoveries about exoplanets are challenging us to develop more complete theories of the diverse and divergent trajectories of planetary dynamos, mantles, atmospheres and oceans, and (most probably) their resident life forms. More and more, it seems that we are living in the dawn of comparative solar system studies.

Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems­ (G-Cubed) has recently initiated a new Frontiers in Geosystems series to showcase international community efforts to address these challenges and provide a venue for discussion.The inaugural theme of this series will focus on Deep Earth – Surface Interactions. To kick off the theme in style, we held a successful Union session at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting thanks to eight terrific invited speakers. Over the next months, G-Cubed will publish the resulting review papers, on topics like the interactions between climate and volcanism; time-variable mantle convection, continental growth and the geodynamo; long term sea level variations, mantle convection, and climate; convection and the biosphere and atmosphere; and links between mantle convection and mass extinctions.

We don’t yet know where we will see the most progress over the next 15 years, but we do know it will be an exciting time for Earth sciences. With luck, advances in geosystems science will also help us get a better handle on the flipside of exoplanetary excitement – getting to grips with the stewardship of our own planet.

—Thorsten W. Becker, Editor in Chief, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems; email:


Becker, T. W. (2016), Frontiers in geosystems: Solving the puzzles, Eos, 97, Published on 24 March 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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