Press Release

IGBP calls for better observation of Earth’s “Achilles’ heels”

By SpaceRef Editor
August 7, 2003
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Monitoring the most sensitive “hotspots” of the Earth is an important way of assessing the health of our planet and predicting our future, said IGBP (International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme) scientists speaking at the Earth Observation Summit in Washington last week.

The summit was attended by officials from more than 30 countries hoping to create an integrated Earth Observation System to monitor the Earth and how it is changing as a result of human activities and natural forces. The IGBP was one of two international scientific research organisations asked to make a statement at the summit.

According to Dr Will Steffen, Executive Director of IGBP, the Earth has a number of “Achilles’ heels” that are particularly sensitive to human activities. Examples include the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic, the ozone hole over Antarctica and the Amazon basin in Brazil. Such regions must be included as a high priority in the Earth Observation System, he said.

“The worry is that these sensitive spots, if pushed too far by human activities, could trigger abrupt or irreversible changes in the Earth System. A slowing or complete shutdown of the Gulf Stream, for example, will alter the climate of northern Europe. Excessive deforestation in the Amazon could alter rainfall patterns throughout the globe.”

These areas must be carefully and continuously monitored to help us determine if we are approaching a critical threshold, he said.

Dr Steffen also stressed the importance of monitoring the global carbon cycle to identify sources and sinks of carbon dioxide and to provide early warning of major changes. “Earth System models indicate that the land and ocean sinks will weaken in the second half of the century. We cannot rely on the oceans and forests to continue to absorb the carbon dioxide that we produce at the rates they do now.”

“IGBP sees the Earth Observation System as a very positive step towards producing the globally consistent and reliable data needed for all nations to deal with global change,” he said.

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SpaceRef staff editor.