Planet Earth in our hands

The human race needs its planet. We depend upon it completely, because we evolved from it, remain forever part of it, and can exist only by courtesy of the self-sustaining Earth System. The Earth is unique not only in our Solar System but, as far as we know, in the accessible universe. It is not just the only planet we have – it is the only living planet we know, or may ever know. The Earth provides so many riches, about which we have so much more to learn – as new research techniques are brought to bear. The more we learn, the more we understand that we must nurture the Earth as we would our children, for their sake.

Keeping our balance

Earth scientists are today’s key players in building a sustainable world. For our children’s sake we must be able to use the Earth’s riches without wasting resources that cannot be replenished, and without upsetting the dynamic equilibrium of the Earth System that sustains us all.

The changing world of Earth Science

Humans in the landscape

Spheres within spheres

Building high, building deep

Amazing GRACE

Several recent developments will improve our ability to observe the Earth's response. For instance, high precision gravity measurements by satellites such as GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) will improve our understanding of mass flows on Earth - such as magma in its crust, water in oceans and melting icecaps on the poles. GRACE will enable Earth scientists to predict floods in lowlands by allowing them to monitor more accurately the degree of saturation in upstream catchment areas, for example. In future, space satellites will be able to monitor and detect earthquake activitiy in areas where no ground stations exist. Radar interferometry - an extremely sensitive altitude observation technology capable even of detecting the Moon's tidal pull on the continents - will soon be able to detect land movements before damage to built structures has become apparent. Other emerging satellite technologies can use disturbances in the ionosphere to detect earthquakes - including under the oceans.

The challenge facing Earth science is to combine all these new data, and use them to visualize, explain and predict flows of ice, water and magma, the movements of tectonic plates and ocean currents, the activity of faults and volcanoes, the rise and fall of the crust and - ultimately - the Earth's response to human activity. This will then enable them to forecast more accurately - and then mitigate - geological hazards facing people all over the world.