National Science Foundation should create next-generation Earth systems science initiative, new report says
To explore the complex interactions between the natural world and society and enhance our understanding of Earth’s systems — the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, and the individuals, institutions, and technologies that respond to and influence these dynamics — the National Science Foundation should create a next-generation Earth systems science initiative, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The complicated and dynamic interactions of Earth’s systems have maintained life on our planet for billions of years. Understanding of these systems, their complex interactions and feedback mechanisms, and their importance to humanity has grown substantially over the last few decades. For example, Earth systems like the atmosphere and water cycle underpin our ability to grow food and access clean water. However, critical questions remain about how these systems function and interact — including how decisions made today might impact these systems and humanity in the future.
“This report represents the next generation of Earth Systems Science — centering the importance of humans on the Earth and the need to work more collaboratively as a community of scholars to support societal decision-making,” says Melissa Kenney, Director of Research and Knowledge Initiatives at IonE and one of the report’s contributors.
Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, says the report “lays out a vision for an Earth systems science initiative at NSF that is bold, integrated across disciplines, and forward looking. Potential benefits accrue not just to science and researchers, but to communities whose future depends on learning how Earth systems are changing.”
The report says NSF’s next-generation Earth systems science initiative should innovate, advance, and nurture an integrated research approach for the field. This will require NSF to place an increased emphasis on research inspired by real-world problems while maintaining its strong legacy of curiosity driven research across many disciplines — and to enhance the participation of social, engineering, and data scientists, and strengthen its efforts to include diverse perspectives in research.
“Advancing our fundamental understanding of Earth Systems requires embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice as central — removing the barriers that have excluded people, expanding the scope of work to understand inequalities and explore just solutions, deliberately creating an inclusive culture,” says Kenney.
In particular, Next-Generation Earth Systems Science at the National Science Foundation lays out six key characteristics that an integrated Earth systems science initiative will need to embody:
- Advance research that is driven by curiosity, as well as research that is driven by real-world needs and uses, across a range of locations and time spans.
- Facilitate the convergence of social, natural, computational, and engineering sciences to inform solutions to problems related to Earth systems — such as how to implement plans that avoid the worst impacts of flooding, by studying and understanding how human activities and climate change impact the water cycle.
- Ensure diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just approaches to Earth systems science.
- Prioritize engagement and partnerships with diverse stakeholders so that they are better included in the research process.
- Synergize observational, computational, and modeling capabilities to accelerate discoveries.
- Educate and support a workforce with the skills and knowledge needed to participate in an integrated research approach.
The study — undertaken by the Committee on Advancing a Systems Approach to Studying the Earth: A Strategy for the National Science Foundation — was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.
This announcement is adapted from a press release from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Kate Nyquist is IonE’s manager of communications & content.