Historical Social Research

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Ola Uhrqvist: One Model to Fit All? The Pursuit of Integrated Earth System Models in GAIM and AIMES [Abstract]

Images of Earth from space popularized the view of our planet as a single, fragile entity against the vastness and darkness of space. In the 1980s, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) was set up to produce a predictive understanding of this fragile entity as the ‘Earth System.’ In order to do so, the program sought to create a common research framework for the different disciplines involved. It suggested that integrated numerical models could provide such a framework. The paper historicizes the formation of the present ways of thinking about how the components are combined to produce policy-relevant knowledge about the ‘Earth System.’ The empirical basis consists of project documentation, publications and interviews from the Task Force on Global Analysis, Interpretation and Modelling (GAIM) and the project Analysis, Integration and Modelling of the Earth System (AIMES). Within the IGBP GAIM and AIMES fostered the advancement of ‘Earth System’ modeling. The paper divides the development of ‘Earth System’ modeling up into three phases. Research of the first phase mainly concerned the interpretation of model behavior (1984-1997), in the second phase integration and ‘Earth System’ analysis was placed at the center of research efforts (1998-2003). In the third phase AIMES scientists explored the consequences of incorporating humans as a dynamic component in the ‘Earth System’ (2004-). This transition shows that redefining the global environment in increasingly complex terms altered the role of modelers and predictability of the ‘Earth System.’

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