Earth System Observations

In 2010, at the annual meeting of the IGBP Steering Committee, a working group composed of IGBP participants, as well as representatives from the other ESSP projects, ESA and other key partners, reviewed the status of observing systems and networked observations in the IGBP family of projects – concluding that significant gaps existed in the current portfolio of activities in geographic coverage, disciplinary integration and especially in integration of human and natural system observations.

IGBP, in consultation with other ESSP partners, GEO/GEOSS and other key organizations, conducted a study to respond to this gap analysis (Schimel et al 2011: supplemental documents). Earth System Science requires globally integrated data, yet currently many distributed programs represent a pattern of investment in specific marine, ecosystem, social and climate regimes, with uneven sampling effort distributed over the globe or even continents. Certain ecosystems and land cover types are under-sampled (Martin et al., 2012).

A major conclusion was the need for identifying required observables, and their availability, quality and coverage for the societal dynamics to be addressed as part of the integrated dataset. Most of these data are collected at a national level, or even a regional one, and the metadata for these datasets are highly variable. The community involved is increasingly aware of the challenges this poses, but AIMES will make a major contribution by promoting a community discussion of the types of data most urgently required for Global Earth System Science.

AIMES is currently working to promote an integrated approach to coupled human-environment systems through its co-sponsorship of the IGBP-IHDP “Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE)” project. This project is stimulating cross-disciplinary research to identify the impacts of environmental change on human well-being in the past (Costanza et al., 2012). Second, as part of Future Earth, AIMES will use such understanding of human-environment interactions in the past to inform models of the future (van der Leeuw et al., 2011). In both cases, in order to give the integration between human and environmental systems its due, the scalar focus has been moved from the global to the regional, as it is at that scale that the different kinds of dynamic interact.