Finding sustainable solutions to manage the interacting effects of gradual and abrupt changes in climate, natural resources, the economy, and society will require integrating scientific data from multiple sources. Managing complex social and natural systems requires a strong conceptual framework. For example, recent advances in Earth observations and modeling of complex systems could improve the capacity to analyze “if-then” scenarios, such as if the frequency, magnitude, and duration of extreme climate conditions increase, how will freshwater distribution systems be affected? These new tools, if developed to support decision makers, can transform the way scientific information is applied.
To this end, scientists met for a workshop at the Aspen Global Change Institute in Colorado in October 2015 to develop research priorities for analyzing how climate and environmental stressors influence urbanization, water resources, ecosystems, agriculture, and energy supplies. Those attending the workshop had expertise in human-Earth systems science, remote sensing, and adaptation decision support.
Themes included providing information for managing complex systems, using Earth observations (especially remote sensing data) more effectively in integrated human-Earth systems models, and increasing multi- and interdisciplinary collaborations across research and applications communities. NASA and the Heising-Simons Foundation sponsored the workshop.
Participants noted that decisions made today, and during ensuing decades, are enormously important in establishing resilient development for rapidly urbanizing nations across the globe. Given the magnitude of the risks and opportunities associated with simultaneous changes in society (for example, migration, economic trends, security issues) and the environment (for example, climate change, fragmentation of ecosystems), a key question remains. How do we accelerate progress?
Workshop participants agreed that timing is crucial, as decisions made today can either promote social, economic, and environmental stewardship over time or create an array of unintended negative risks and vulnerabilities with adverse consequences. Attendees recommended focusing on fundamental science for solutions through integration of data, models, and decisions; developing the capacity to apply scientific insights in decision support for interdisciplinary themes such as water, energy, food, and climate; and breaking down communication barriers between scientists and decision makers by creating opportunities for both parties to work together to define research that meets societal needs. One suggested approach is to develop a typology of decisions, information needs, and application contexts (such as an evaluation of the capacity of users to apply scientific information and tools in their decisions).
The participants identified several next steps, including sharing the outcomes of the workshop with federal funding agencies and broader research and applications communities; establishing a collaborative Web portal for sharing best practices and ideas and to support continued dialogue; facilitating development of joint projects and proposals across the communities; and incorporating adaptation research into existing research programs, for example, to inform National Adaptation Plans, especially for developing countries. Interested scientists are invited to contact us.
—Ghassem R. Asrar and Richard Moss, Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; email: [email protected]; and Katharine L. Jacobs, Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions, University of Arizona, Tucson
Citation: Asrar, G. R., R. Moss, and K. L. Jacobs (2016), Challenges and opportunities in Earth-human systems research, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO050919. Published on 25 April 2016.