Organization: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Research Title: Earth System History (ESH)

Funding Level (millions of dollars):

FY94 6.8
FY95 9.0
FY96 9.4

Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Component:
(a) Subcommittee: Global Change Research Subcommittee (100%) NSTC Committee on Fundamental Science
(b) Environmental Issue: Natural Variability - 70%; Climate Change - 10%; Changes in Land Use - 10%; Ocean Ecosystems - 10%
(c) Research Activity: System Structure and Function: Observations - 80%; Prediction - 20%

Organizational Component:
Directorate for Geosciences Division of Atmospheric Sciences
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230

Point of Contact:
Herman B. Zimmerman
Phone: 703-306-1527

Research Goals:
To understand the full range and character of the natural variability of the Earth's environmental system through records preserved in geo-biologic materials and to produce a comprehensive theory of climate change on decadal to millennial time scales, including the forcing mechanisms, interactions and feedbacks among the Earth's environmental subsystems.

Research Description:
The Earth System History Program is a focused paleoscience research effort designed to provide a quantitative understanding of the Earth's past environment and to define the envelope of natural environmental variability within which we can assess anthropogenic impact on the Earth's biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and atmosphere. To accomplish this, the Earth System History Program supports the systematic compilation of, high quality physical, chemical, and biological paleorecords of climatic and environmental changes and events. Support is directed towards the quantification and development of biotic and geochemical proxy indicators for past Earth system processes and the improvement of geochronological techniques. The analysis of the sensitivity of climate and the relationship of forcing mechanisms (e.g., atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations) to changes in terrestrial and oceanic states will also be supported under this program. Central to the ESH Program will be the development and testing of models of the processes of climate change and the evaluation of climate models with paleoclimate data and information. A key objective of the ESH Program to provide the paleoenvironmental knowledge required for the evaluation of predictive climate models. Major ESH field programs include ship and land-based field observations; these campaigns are currently on-going and being planned for the 1995-1999 time frame. ESH participates in multi-agency and international field projects which include studies of the hierarchy of climate control mechanisms, the dynamics of transequatorial atmospheric linkages, the paleomonsoon as a teleconnection process in low latitude regions and the influence of the central Asian highlands (the "third pole") on global climate.

Program Interfaces:
The ESH Program is part of a multi-agency and international research effort. ESH works closely with NOAA and the USGS to ensure the long-term support base for the U.S. effort in the application of the paleosciences to Global Change issues. At the international level, this effort is directed through Past Global Changes (PAGES), a core project of the IGBP/ICSU. ESH is responsive to the needs of the PAGES/IGBP by focusing on observational, analytical and interpretative activities on a societal time scale. PAGES is organized to integrate ice, ocean and terrestrial paleorecords and encourages the creation of consistent analytical and data-base methodologies within the international paleosciences. This vital step is required for the establishment of an effective global network of reliable paleorecords for the production of paleoclimatic simulations and for the reconstruction of a comprehensive environmental history of the Earth.

Program Milestones:
1995-97: Initiation of an international network of paleoclimate transects with the goal of understanding inter-hemispheric climate interaction and establishing the spatial and temporal natural variability of global climate. 1996-99: Carry out research on the tropical climate record to establish ENSO and monsoonal variability on annual to decadal time scales; correlation of ice volume and atmospheric composition records; initiate studies of drought/flood patterns for North America. 1996-99: Conduct model intercomparison experiments and evaluate models with paleodata

Policy Payoffs:
ESH will provide the historical perspective of the key elements of global change on societal time scales. This will establish the initial conditions of the Earth system prior to human intervention and help to disentangle anthropomorphic-induced changes from the natural response to external forcing mechanisms and internal system dynamics. ESH research will determine the rates of ecosystem response to climate change and the potential to re-populate an environment. Results of model evaluations will be required for policymakers in determining the reliability of model predictions.