New perspective on processes behind Earth system change


The incoming head of the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences has contributed a Perspective article to the latest edition of the journal Science .

Professor Todd Ehlers, currently of the University of Tübingen, Germany, was invited to contribute the piece in response to research published in the same issue which discusses a new computer-model reconstruction of global topography over the last 100 million years.

Professor Ehlers’ article adds a wider context to the research, outlining how a more complete understanding of the processes which formed our world will help us better deal with the challenges of our changing climate.

He discusses how the evolution of Earth’s topography over millions of years has influenced the planet’s atmosphere and biosphere, creating numerous examples of ’alternative Earths’ where conditions were very different from today.

Some of those alternative Earths could be part of our future as the planet continues to change as a result of human activity and increased carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

The processes outlined in the article, including the plate tectonic shifts which create mountains and the erosion of the exposed rock, are vital to creating the complex web of interactions between the Earth’s surface, atmosphere and ocean chemistry.

Those interactions help to create and sustain the planets’ varied biosphere, as well as giving us our air, water, food and energy supplies.

Professor Ehlers is currently an honorary professor at the School of Geographical & Earth Sciences. He will join the University of Glasgow as the School’s new head in the coming months.

He said: "I was pleased to be invited to contribute this Perspective piece to Science in support of this fascinating new model developed by Salles and coauthors.

"It offers valuable new insight to the complicated interactions between geological, biological and atmospheric processes which have shaped the world we live in. It also points to how new research can help deepen our understanding of how our planet is continuing to change."

"In order to build on the model’s insights, researchers from around the world will need to work together to make detailed new observations of many of the processes it simulates. No single model can ever simulate every process, and new work at the local and global level for specific study areas will help fill in some of the blanks and lead to a more effective understanding in the future.

"I’m looking forward to doing my part to contribute to this area of research, along with my new colleagues at the University of Glasgow."

Professor Ehlers’ Perspective article is published in Science.