What is earth system science (ESS)?

"The objective of Earth System Science is to understand how the Earth is changing and the consequences for life on Earth with a focus on enabling prediction and mitigation of undesirable consequences. Such an approach involves studying the processes and interactions (cycles) among the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, and geosphere from a global to local point-of-view, and across the time scales (minutes to eons) in which these spheres interact." http://education.gsfc.nasa.gov/esssproject/ess_definition.html

"Earth System Science is a relatively new field of study that focuses on the operation of the whole Earth, including the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere. These four spheres can be thought of as four machines or systems that are connected together to make one larger machine -- the whole Earth system. Earth System Science is especially concerned with the interactions between these different spheres and how these interactions control the global climate. This field of study incorporates and integrates material from traditional geology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, atmospheric chemistry, and other fields." http://www.acad.carleton.edu/curricular/GEOL/DaveSTELLA/intro%20ESS/intro.html

What characterizes ESS?

Why is ESS developing now?

What is the Gaia hypothesis? The biosphere regulates surface conditions on earth so that they remain favorable for life through a series of feedback mechanisms. Life both adapts to and adapts the surface environment. Simple but revolutionary.


Major components of the earth system with some examples of subcomponents:

This course will more purposefully link androsphere and other spheres. You could have a good debate as to whether we should consider humans as a separate sphere, or just part of the biosphere.


A comment on disciplinary boundaries.

The path to sucess in science is often perceived as one of narrow specialization. However, ESS requires the ability to integrate knowledge from different disciplines. In this case, disciplinary boundaries must not only be crossed, but those with different specializations must collaborate. Since scientists are human, and are emotionally invested in their affiliations and self definition, and since research resources are involved, disciplinary territorialism exists and can be a hindrance. Some suggest we live in a post-disciplinary scientific world. Not yet, and maybe never, but I believe the present trend is towards the integration and redefinition of traditional boundaries. Below is a conceptual map of some disciplines. One question is how will this map evolve with time.


How do we try to understand complex systems?

The list of traits that characterize ESS gives you some idea.

By devising conceptual models of linkages, often known as cycles or flow diagrams:

One example of a conceptual model: energy flow in the surface environment.

Models can be corrected, expanded, revised so that they are improved. how can this one be improved?

Computer modeling:

Observation of system behavior:

Collaborative science.