Incorporating Human Dimensions In Earth System Models

May 21, 1998

Scientists from a wide variety of disciplines, including atmospheric physics, biogeochemistry, public policy, ecology, sociology, medicine, and economics will gather at a special Union session at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in Boston on Tuesday May 26 to discuss ways to incorporate socioeconomic factors into developing models of the Earth System.

This merging of disparate research communities will be aimed toward clarifying specific issues such as model integration, societal feedbacks on biogeochemical systems, and the causes and effects of policy changes on global environmental systems. The session will culminate in a panel discussion focusing on some of the broader issues of complex model coupling, development of prognostic capabilities, policy implications, and suggestions for ways for a united research community to proceed.

There is a growing recognition within AGU and elsewhere of the importance of global change research and the critical next step of incorporating societal systems into the "equation." From the perspective of Global Change, the Earth System can be divided into physical climate, biogeochemical, and human components. While there are strong and growing links between physical climate and biogeochemical research, the links to the human dimension have largely been ignored. The reasons for this are partly because the social, economic, and political sciences comprise a different scholarly community than the physical and biogeochemical sciences. In addition, modeling the complexities of modern human society is an exceedingly difficult task, particularly when future projections are involved. However, human activity is a major (and perhaps dominant) driver for global change. In order to develop biogeochemical models, it is critical to accurately account for changes in the driving forces stemming from human activity. While this is not yet possible, some socio-economic models exist now, and others are currently being developed. Their development, in a way which can be coupled to physical climate and biogeochemical models will ultimately enable the modeling community to make reliable estimates of future impact of global change on the basis of evolving drivers to the system. This special session represents an preliminary attempt to bring together researchers from the physical, biogeochemical, and human dimensions arenas to explore the way ahead.

American Geophysical Union

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