An interdisciplinary approach to global change research is required for scientific advances that are both fundamental and relevant to real-world problems. The Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI), under the leadership of director John Katzenberger, has provided global leadership for such interdisciplinary science over the past 25 years. From its first workshop, AGCI has brought together physical and social scientists researching the drivers of change, Earth system response, natural and human system impacts, and options for risk management. The sessions are small (usually around 30 participants), held in a retreat-like setting (recently in a tent near a stream), and long enough (a week or more) to allow communication, reflection, and planning. Landmark AGCI science sessions have frequently set the course of future global change research.
In that spirit, an August 2014 session brought together an interdisciplinary combination of early and established career scientists to formulate a list of future research topics that constitute the frontiers of global change research. These frontiers form a vision for global change research for the next 20 years. An overarching theme was the increasing need for advancing fundamental knowledge along with decision relevance. Progress will require greater coordination and integration of natural, social, and engineering sciences and the humanities.
Some of the research will continue to address familiar topics in new ways that take such coordination and integration into account. These include climate extremes, vulnerability, and societal resilience; cities and urbanization; ecosystem thresholds and adaptation (for systems such as coral reefs under dire threat); ecological intensification of food production and nutrition; integration of mitigation and adaptation strategies; decision support science using scenarios, probabilistic analysis, robust decision making, and other approaches; systems (instead of single infrastructures) analysis of risk and resilience; multicriteria approaches for valuing impacts considering extremes, transition costs, and other factors; and burden sharing and intergenerational equity.
The frontiers of global change science are intended to address problems that are seen as increasingly complex and connected. The current focus on climate will broaden to global environmental change. One of the goals of the session was to broaden the study of climate change to global environmental change. The vision for integrated Earth system modeling includes a hierarchy of models, from complex, high-resolution to reduced forms that can be integrated as required to address specific science questions and decision needs, providing improved insight and uncertainty characterization. Decadal climate prediction, from monthly to seasonal to decadal, will connect near-term science information to user needs within the credible limits of predictability. Observations of natural and human systems will be increasingly coordinated and cohesive.
Research will improve approaches to coproduction of usable science that engages researchers, practitioners, and “bridge builders”/“science translators” trained and rewarded for communication and interdisciplinarity. The next generation will see an expanded influence of women researchers in global change science. Also, there will be a growing role for citizen science and knowledge management, with the associated need for standards and metrics.
We acknowledge the contributions of the session’s 33 participants and the agency sponsors: NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.
—Gerald A. Meehl, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo.; email:[email protected]; and Richard Moss, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash.
Citation: Meehl, G. (2014), Twenty-five years of interdisciplinary global change science, Eos Trans. AGU, 95(50), 478, doi:10.1002/2014EO500007.