As seen almost daily in news reports, tightly connected national and global networks of infrastructure, commodities, goods, and services are vulnerable to failure at all geographic scales. Shocks and stressors can arise from weather and climate hazards as well as societal trends such as changes in population and economic dynamics.
Interdisciplinary researchers across the globe are working to advance human–Earth systems science to better address these interconnected risks, increase resilience, and improve sustainability. In the United States, these efforts are supported in large measure by the MultiSector Dynamics (MSD) area of the Biological and Environmental Research program in the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. The program seeks to improve understanding of risks, synergies, and tradeoffs as humans respond to diverse human pressures that will evolve simultaneously with an increasingly extreme climate.
Supporting 10 independent research projects across DOE laboratories and leading U.S. universities, DOE’s MSD program has recently established a “community of practice” to improve collaboration among MSD researchers both in the United States and internationally. The newly formed group for MSD has just published a new report, co-led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, that identifies shared research approaches, questions, and opportunities for the community. The goal is to facilitate progress in managing complex human–Earth system interdependencies. The document outlines a deep and compelling future for the new science of MSD, according to Bob Vallario, MSD program director at the DOE Office of Science.
“The new MSD Vision 2030 report will press the boundaries of integrated modeling, complexity theory, high-performance computing, and machine learning, bringing advanced simulation capabilities and insights to bear on both national challenges and opportunities,” Vallario said. “The scope ranges from climate impacts, population shifts, and aging infrastructure, to technology, resource, and economic development.”
Patrick Reed, a Cornell University professor who helps lead the work of the community of practice, noted this report has the potential to transform the community’s understanding of integrated sustainability, climate, and energy transition challenges.
“On the technical level, taking advantage of open science, emerging human systems datasets, and embedded intelligence in our modeling is critical,” Reed said. “A second key issue for making foundational advancements is our scientific workforce. A key aspect of the MSD vision report is that we really need to invest in growing and diversifying our community to better understand the complexity of our national and global challenges.”.
A framework for developing the science
The MSD Vision 2030 report is the product of over two years of community activities facilitated by its authors in the MSD Science Steering Group. The report’s authors conducted extensive exploration of scientific literature and community-level questionnaires, sought input from six working groups, and held briefings for representatives of several U.S. federal agencies. More than 260 participants from over 30 countries weighed in during sessions held at the American Geophysical Union fall meetings in 2020 and 2021.
The final report provides a framework for growing and accelerating peer interactions, collaborative research, and engagement with other research communities. It includes ideas for attracting and developing the next generation of multidisciplinary MSD scientists, advancing the core competencies, and outlining the diverse backgrounds that will be essential for advancing the field.
Calls to action in the report
- Strengthen foundational research capabilities. Use open science methods and principles to advance the modeling of complex interactions between sectors and systems. Strengthen foundational research capabilities to take advantage of explosive growth with data resources and advances in computation and embedded intelligence. Expand and diversify the MSD workforce.
- Advance the science of human–Earth system interactions. Determine risk and resilience in human–Earth systems through fundamental understanding of their complex interactions, interdependencies, and co-evolving pathways.
- Evaluate uncertainties, data, and models for scientific and decision-related insight. Capture higher-fidelity representations of coupled processes or sectors in increasingly complex models and workflows while also trying to rigorously make valid model-based scientific inferences.