Global change is not restricted to climate
change and greenhouse gas emissions, nor can it be understood
in terms of a simple cause-effect paradigm. Recent studies of
the Earth’s land surface, oceans, coasts and atmosphere,
of the biological diversity, the water cycle and biogeochemical
cycles make it clear that human activity is generating change
that extends well beyond natural variability-in some cases,
alarmingly so-and at rates that continue to accelerate.
Earth System dynamics are characterized by critical thresholds
and abrupt changes. Global change research over the last decade
shows that the Earth System is currently operating well outside
the normal state exhibited over the past 500,000 years.
ESSP is particularly interested in human-driven changes, which
are multi-dimensional and have a cascading effect on the Earth
System. These properties make them difficult to understand or
predict. But integrated science approaches and the application
of advanced modelling technologies are helping to develop a clearer
picture of the past and project various scenarios for the future.
We now have evidence to suggest that human activities could inadvertently
trigger severe consequences for Earth’s environment and
habitat, potentially switching the Earth System to alternative
modes of operation that may prove irreversible and inhospitable
to humans and other life forms.
ESSP’s activities recognize the need to build bridges
across disciplines in order to truly understand our life support
system and the impact humans are having on it. More to the point,
they seek to advance beyond description of natural phenomena
to a deeper understanding of processes and system-level behaviour.
ESSP’s intention is to contribute to the knowledge base
required to develop science-based solutions that support sustainable
use of our resources.
For more information on the Earth System Science Partnership
visit the website http://www.essp.org.