Created to reflect the risks and opportunities associated with environmental changes and challenges, Earth’s Future features primary research across disciplines and seeks to connect it to policy through editorials, essays, reviews, and other commentary pieces. Contributors tackle solutions to such grand challenges as population increase, industrial and agricultural development, urbanization, climate change, geohazards, energy, food and water resource sustainability and security.
The inaugural group of articles includes:
“Conservation Easements and Mining: The Case of Chile”
• SUMMARY: Private protected areas (PPAs) are a popular tool for conserving natural habitats. In many cases, the goal of promoting PPA creation by private landowners is to create a set of protected areas that fill gaps in the state protected areas. Thus, in many cases the burden of fulfilling international treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity is passed to the private sector. However, there are many legal models for PPAs, and they do not all provide the same kinds of protection as state protected areas. We examine a proposed law establishing PPAs in Chile, and ask whether this would provide any protection against a growing threat to conservation in the region, mining. We conclude that the law streamlines creating PPAs in Chile, but does not create a legal framework capable of nature protection in the long term. As mining conflicts with conservation gain prominence around the world, it is important to consider the role of nature preservation by the private sector and under what conditions this can compensate for lack of state protection.
• Meredith Root-Bernstein, Oxford University (Oxford, U.K.), Martin Montecinos Carvajal, Oxford University (Oxford, U.K.), Richard Ladle, Oxford University (Oxford, U.K.), Paul Jepson, Oxford University (Oxford, U.K.), Fabián Jaksic, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Santiago, Chile)
“Knowing the Unknowns”
• SUMMARY: How the future will unfold depends in large measure upon what remains to be discovered. Fifty years after the first photo of the whole Earth was taken, debate rages about the interlinked future of two variables that have been responding to human action for more than a million years. The more we know about the history of albedo and atmospheric composition, the less we may have to exercise our imagination of disaster in times to come.
• Russell Seitz, Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)
“The Future of Agriculture Over the Ogallala Aquifer Solutions to Grow Crops More Efficiently with Limited Water”
• SUMMARY: In some areas of the Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer, farmers can no longer pump enough water for crops. Water-use efficiency and farmer’s profitability can be enhanced by adopting site-specific agronomic management identified by coupling precision agricultural technologies with crop models. Policies grounded in science are critical to ensure long-term sustainability.
• Bruno Basso, Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.), Anthony Kendall, Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.), and David W. Hyndman, Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.)
“Earth’s Future: Navigating the Science of the Anthropocene”
• SUMMARY: Understanding and managing our new and future relation with the Earth requires research and knowledge spanning diverse fields. Earth’s Future will explore and foster interactions among the Earth and environmental sciences, ecology, economics, the health and social sciences, and more. Its mission is to focus on the Earth as an interactive, evolving system to help researchers, policy makers, and the public navigate the science.
• Guy P. Brasseur, Climate Service Center (Germany) and Founding Editor, Earth’s Future, and Ben van der Pluijm, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Editor In Chief, Earth’s Future
“How Far Have We Come in Earth System Science?”
• SUMMARY: Since the term ‘Earth System Science’ was first coined more than 25 years ago, this field has expanded into many different areas, including both geobiology and astrobiology. The biggest emphasis by far remains the interactions of humans and their environment and the implications for our immediate future, especially with regard to climate. But the more general investigation of how life coevolves with its environment and what makes life possible in the first place, is also a fascinating area for future study.
• James Kasting, Penn State University (State College, Pa.)
“A Geological Perspective On Sea-level Rise and Its Impacts Along the U.S. mid-Atlantic Coast”
• SUMMARY: An analysis of historic sea-level rise shows a significant rate increase since the Industrial Revolution. Based on modern data the authors predict a sea-level rise of as much as 37” (96cm) by the end of the 21st century.
• Kenneth G. Miller, Rutgers University (Piscataway, N.J.), Robert E. Kopp, Rutgers University (Piscataway, N.J.), Benjamin P. Horton, Rutgers University (Piscataway, N.J.), James V. Browning, Rutgers University (Piscataway, N.J.), Andrew C. Kemp, Tufts University (Medford, Mass.)
“An Apparent Hiatus in Global Warming?”
• SUMMARY: Global warming first became evident beyond the bounds of natural variability in the 1970s, but increases in global mean surface temperatures have stalled in the 2000s. Increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, continue and create an energy imbalance at the top-of-atmosphere even as the planet warms to adjust to this imbalance. An energy imbalance is manifested not just as surface atmospheric or ground warming, but also as melting sea and land ice, and heating of the oceans. Indeed more than 90% of the heat goes into the oceans and, with melting land ice, causes sea level to rise. Only about 20% of the hiatus can be linked to changes in the energy imbalance from the quiet Sun from 2003 to 2009, and aerosols from minor volcanic eruptions. Moreover, while there is a hiatus in the rise of global mean surface temperatures over the past decade or so, there is no slowdown in sea level rise, increases in ocean heat content, and melting of Arctic sea ice and land ice. Global warming has not stopped; it is merely manifested in different ways.
• Kevin E. Trenberth and John T. Fasull, National Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder, Co.)
Earth’s Future (earthsfuture.agu.org) joins AGU’s prestigious portfolio of peer-reviewed research publications, including Geophysical Research Letters and Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres. Both are ranked among the top ten most-highly cited research publications on climate change over the past decade. Editor in Chief Ben van der Pluijm is the B.R. Clark Collegiate Professor of Geology and Professor of the Environment at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on active and past deformation of the Earth’s crust, and his teaching and outreach target the societal dimensions of global change.
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