Leopoldina news 3_2022 | Page 8

8 3 / 2022 // LEOPOLDINA / NEWS

Earth system components are linked in a variety of ways

The Leopoldina has published a new Report on Tomorrow ’ s Science about Earth System Science
Climate change , the energy transition , the scarcity of raw materials , water shortages and the significant rise in damage inflicted by natural disasters are all the topic of increasingly heated public debates , with recent crises adding even more fuel to the fire . Equally , these issues are opening our eyes to the limits of our planet ’ s habitability . And they are turning the geosciences into a key discipline for finding suitable solutions to keep Earth habitable .
“ The questions touch on such a broad range of topics that they cannot be solved by one subdiscipline alone .”
Onno Oncken Speaker of the Leopoldina ‘ s
“ Earth System Research ” working group
Image : GFZ

In addition to these widely discussed topics , scientists are still searching for answers to many important questions , such as those concerning the origin of life , the predictability of natural disasters and human interaction with the climate and the environment . Against this backdrop , it is important to examine whether the geosciences in Germany are ideally structured to find scientific answers and practical solutions to these challenges . Coordinated by the Leopoldina , a group of specialists in the geosciences community discussed this matter in detail and recorded their findings in the “ Earth System Science – Discovery , Diag nosis , and Solutions in Times of Global Change ” Report on Tomorrow ’ s Science .

The report highlights a series of strengths , including the widely and internationally respected methodological skills within the field ’ s subdisciplines and the outstanding infrastructure in some areas . Despite this , a number of shortcomings are restricting scientists ’ ability to develop solutions effectively .
In recent decades , scientists have come to realise that Earth System components are closely linked in a variety of ways . While this understanding of the Earth ’ s characteristics has long been firmly entrenched in subdisciplines of
the geosciences focusing on the climate , to the extent that even complex system concepts have been developed , this knowledge has so far only been explored to a limited degree in solid earth geosciences and other subdisciplines .
At the same time , the questions listed at the start of this article touch on such a broad range of topics that they cannot be solved by one subdiscipline alone . It is therefore clear that Earth System Science should be established as an overarching framework to enable scientists to make projections about future developments , assess the consequences of interfering with nature , estimate the risks of natural hazards and find solutions to address many fundamental issues .
Despite all their strengths , the geosciences in Germany are not ideally structured to tackle the increasingly apparent conditions and challenges we are facing . Education focuses far too heavily on the individual subdisciplines , with degree programmes , disciplines and even expert geoscience societies painting a highly fragmented picture .
Education and research are hesitant to integrate new professional fields for graduates , modern technological and methodological developments ( such as those found in data science ), modelling , high-resolution analytics and real-time observations into their activities . Important infrastructure used to monitor critical developments in Earth System components is only found in isolated cases .
This is where the “ Earth System Science ” Report on Tomorrow ’ s Science steps in . It presents political and academic decision-makers as well as the geoscience community with recommendations to form the basis for discussions about the changes needed . The key areas for action include a shift towards Earth System Science as the operating framework , improving networking across disciplines and institutions , modernising education and training and developing important infrastructure .
* Onno Oncken has been a member of the Leopoldina since 2002 . His work as a geologist focuses on the dynamics of the lithosphere at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam / Germany . He is one of two speakers of the working group that compiled the “ Earth System Science ” Report on Tomorrow ’ s Science .
Report on Tomorrow ’ s Science “ Earth System Science ”