A simulator for the Earth’s planetary boundaries
When will the Earth system reach the limits of its resilience? Under what circumstances will protecting the global commons become impossible? Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research simulate and analyze planetary boundaries.
The planetary boundaries framework has been introduced to define “a safe operating space for humanity” in light of a multitude of existing anthropogenic pressures on vital components of the Earth system. Despite their considerable significance, Earth’s planetary boundaries remain inadequately defined and quantified; the difficulties that arise here are chiefly attributable to non-linear feedbacks in the Earth system and non-trivial interactions between the system’s various components. As national and international political decisions such as the Paris Agreement or the next steps toward a post-2020 global biodiversity framework require Earth system analyses, fundamental scientific progress on these questions is urgently necessary. This demands a novel and integrative Earth system modeling approach based on fast, modular coupled models that include advanced representation of the terrestrial biosphere.
Image: unsplash @Louis Reed
The “Planetary Boundary Simulator” project at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research draws on the Potsdam Earth Model (POEM) to investigate the boundaries of the entire planet while also refining the model.
In the process, participating researchers are moving beyond “pure” climate science and incorporating ecological processes in Earth’s biosphere, humanity’s only habitat, into their analysis. They are expressly quantifying important planetary boundaries by studying aspects such as the effects of the changes taking place globally on forests (together with the resultant feedback effects in the Earth system) and changes in the marine biosphere resulting from a weakening in ocean circulation in the Atlantic. The components of the Earth system are not conceived of solely as components of the climate system, but as defining dimensions of a “safe operating space for humanity.” This simulator for Earth’s planetary boundaries is enabling comprehensive and in-depth probing of the planetary boundaries and their interactions in cooperation with scholars from all over the world. It can thus provide a quantitative basis for national and international political processes geared to stabilizing the Earth system and advancing sustainable development.