• A personal note on IGBP and the social sciences

    Humans are an integral component of the Earth system as conceptualised by IGBP. João Morais recalls key milestones in IGBP’s engagement with the social sciences and offers some words of advice for Future Earth.
  • IGBP and Earth observation:
    a co-evolution

    The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy .

Earth system definitions

The term “Earth system" refers to Earth´s interacting physical, chemical, and biological processes.

The system consists of the land, oceans, atmosphere and poles. It includes the planet's natural cycles — the carbon, water, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and other cycles — and deep Earth processes.
Life too is an integral part of the Earth system. Life affects the carbon, nitrogen, water, oxygen and many other cycles and processes.
The Earth system now includes human society, Our social and economic systems are now embedded within the Earth system. In many cases, the human systems are now the main drivers of change in the Earth system.

Global change

Global change refers to planetary-scale changes in the Earth system.
More completely, the term “global change" encompasses: planetary scale changes to atmospheric circulation, ocean circulation, climate, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the water cycle and other cycles, sea-ice changes, sea-level changes, food webs, biological diversity, pollution, health, fish stocks, and more.
Civilization is now a large driver of global change so the term includes population, the economy, resource use, energy, development, transport, communication, land use and land cover, urbanization, globalization.

Global change and climate

Climate refers to the long-term average of the aggregation of all components of weather — precipitation, temperature and cloudiness, for example. The climate system includes processes involving ocean, land and sea ice in addition to the atmosphere.

The Earth system encompasses the climate system. Many changes in Earth system functioning directly involve changes in climate. However, the Earth system includes other components and processes, biophysical and human, that are important for its functioning.

Some Earth system changes, natural or driven by humans, can have significant consequences without involving changes in climate. Global change should  not be confused with climate change; it is significantly more. indeed, climate change is part of this much larger challenge.

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IGBP closed at the end of 2015. This website is no longer updated.

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  • Global Change Magazine No. 84

    This final issue of the magazine takes stock of IGBP’s scientific and institutional accomplishments as well as its contributions to policy and capacity building. It features interviews of several past...

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