Perspectives for the Center for Geosciences

(from: "Perspectives 2020 for the Center for Geosciences of the ÖAW", Oct. 2009
Hans P. Schönlaub and Christian Köberl, Head and Deputy Head of the GWZ)


In the near future, humankind will be exposed to economic and social pressures that are unknown today (see, e.g., Nature, vol. 461, no. 7263, 472-475, 2009). As a reaction to such developments, the International Council of Science (ICSU) has urgently suggested a re-orientation and better focus of national and international research programs in the Earth Sciences, including also the social sciences ( The development also challenges the Center for Geosciences of the Academy to develop new priorities and partnerships in geoscience research, which so far was dealt with by the four Earth Science committees only within their rather specialized fields of research.

Topics, such as global warming, sea level changes, natural hazards, and lack of resources, have increasingly been publicly discussed as part of a debate about sustainability. The geosciences, being integrative sciences, can provide information about the origin, structure, and development of an ever-changing planet Earth, as well as to an environmentally friendly and sustainable use of the Earth’s resources, and to predict future development scenarios. This requires an interdisciplinary approach.

The modern geosciences follow an interdisciplinary and holistic approach based on understanding the whole Earth as a system. Such a view leads to an improved understanding of structures and processes, which is essential for the development of concepts for securing the sustainable and environmentally conscious use of the Earth’s resources.

The geosciences deal with the study of those natural historical aspects of the Earth System that concern all subsystems on Earth and their interactions. This includes the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Only a comprehensive and interconnected approach, using biological, chemical, geological, and physical methods, can lead to a complete understanding of the Earth System. It is necessary to link a variety of topics from different fields and apply them to the complex challenges.

Research in the geosciences includes questions that range from the origin and development of life, to the search for natural resources, to natural hazards, to extraterrestrial geology, to remote sensing studies of the Earth from space, and even to atomic processes, but also from slow-moving plate tectonic shifts to rapid rock deformations, from the study of the Earth’s interior with geophysical methods to the laboratory simulation of the high pressures and temperatures of deep Earth processes.

Depending on the available capacities, the existing commissions will have to more aggressively identify such topics in the future that will allow the possibility of interdisciplinary cooperation and the focusing of resources to permit solutions on a broad base. The general area "Earth System / Life – a complex dynamic system" could provide a necessary background.