These stories offer a glimpse of the many ways in which Earth System Science is changing the world:
Increasing food production to meet growing demand, while at the same time preserving natural ecosystems, will require further increases in crop yields (tons of grain per hectare of land). Through breeding, and through the development of new fertilizers, irrigation systems, pesticides, and other agronomic changes, substantial increases in the maximum potential yields of our main food crops have been achieved in the past 50 years. Yet further increases will require new innovative solutions.
Land change science has emerged as a fundamental component of global environmental change and sustainability research. This interdisciplinary field seeks to understand the dynamics of land cover and land use. The land cover is defined by the attributes of the earth’s land surface and immediate subsurface, including biota, soil, topography, surface and groundwater, and human structures.
Arsenic is a widely distributed element in soils and sediments. Although mining and other industrial processes can often enrich soils and waters with arsenic, naturally occurring minerals can also provide ample levels of this toxic element. The main exposure path to arsenic is through drinking water; fortunately, its tendency to bind strongly to soil and sediment solids (minerals) usually limits the dissolved concentrations available for consumption.
The Arctic Ocean is changing rapidly. The past few years have seen a dramatic drop in the amount of sea ice that seasonally covers the Arctic Ocean and this has changed its marine ecosystems in fundamental ways. First and foremost, loss of sea ice means the loss of seal and polar bear habitat.
Carbon is an essential building block for all living things, and it plays a major role in our climate system. The amount of carbon stored in both land and ocean systems is an area of intense scientific research. Carbon storage and sequestration has also grown in importance in the international political and economic arenas.
Major ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream (seen in this image of sea surface temperature) are highly energetic and turbulent, forming vortices, meanders, and eddies. Eddies are ubiquitous: they carry nearly 99% of the kinetic energy of the ocean circulation.
Prof. Roz Naylor and postdoc Jen Burney are studying the impact of a novel solar-powered drip irrigation project in rural northern Benin, West Africa. These photovoltaic drip irrigation (PVDI) systems were installed by an American NGO, the Solar Electric Light Fund, in an effort to combat high poverty and malnutrition in northern Benin.