Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences

I keep having to look these up, so I thought I'd make a post for everyone's future reference!

Environmental science often refers to the Grand Challenges. These are the key issues facing humans in the 21st century, and there is some back and forth discussion about what they are, of course. But a report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2001--"Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences"--synthesized the results of a prestigious working group exploring this issue over several years, capturing the concept in 8 challenges:
  1. BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLES: The challenge is to understand how the Earth's major biogeochemical cycles are being perturbed by human activities; to be able to predict the impact of these perturbations on local, regional, and global scales; and to determine how these cycles may be restored to more natural states should such restoration be deemed desirable.
  2. BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM FUNCTIONING: The challenge is to understand the regulation and functional consequences of biological diversity, and to develop approaches for sustaining this diversity and the ecosystem functioning that depends on it.
  3. CLIMATE VARIABILITY: The challenge is to increase our ability to predict climate variability, from extreme events to decadal time scales; to understand how this variability may change in the future; and to assess its impact on natural and human systems.
  4. HYDROLOGIC FORECASTING: The challenge is to predict changes in freshwater resources and the environment caused by floods, droughts, sedimentation, and contamination in a context of growing demand on water resources.
  5. INFECTIOUS DISEASE AND THE ENVIRONMENT: The challenge is to understand the ecological and evolutionary aspects of infectious diseases; to develop an understanding of the interactions among pathogens, hosts/receptors, and the environment; and thus to make it possible to prevent changes in the infectivity and virulence of organisms that threaten plant, animal, and human health at the population level.
  6. INSTITUTIONS AND RESOURCE USE: The challenge is to develop a systematic understanding of the role of institutions—markets, hierarchies, legal structures, regulatory arrangements, international conventions, and other formal and informal sets of rules—in shaping systems for natural resource use, extraction, waste disposal, and other environmentally important activities.
  7. LAND-USE DYNAMICS: The challenge is to develop a systematic understanding of changes in land uses and land covers that are critical to biogeochemical cycling, ecosystem functioning and services, and human welfare.
  8. REINVENTING THE USE OF MATERIALS: The challenge is to develop a quantitative understanding of the global budgets and cycles of key materials used by humanity and of how the life cycles of these materials may be modified. Among the materials of particular interest for this grand challenge are those with documented or potential environmental impacts, those whose long-term availability is in some question, and those with a high potential for recycling and reuse. Examples include copper, silver, and zinc (reusable metals); cadmium, mercury, and lead (hazardous metals); plastics and alloys (reusable substances); and CFCs, pesticides, and many organic solvents (environmentally hazardous substances).
You'll note that "Climate Change" is not listed, but it drives and aggravates all of the other challenges. There is much more to say about why these particular issues are so critical. You can read more about it in the report.

No comments:

Post a Comment