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AIMES 2.0 kicks off in Sweden

This week, leading scientists announced the launch of the second phase in the evolution of Analysis, Integration and Modelling of the Earth System (AIMES), a global research project of Future Earth. The announcement took place at a special session at the Resilience 2017 conference in Stockholm, Sweden. The session was led by Sander Van Der Leeuw, Co-Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee of AIMES and a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, USA.

The next phase in AIMES's evolution recognises that environmental problems are not environmental but social, Sander Van Der Leeuw said at the launch event. Photo: Anick Coudart

During the event, Van Der Leeuw said that the project’s second phase, which he called AIMES 2.0, will focus on using computer models to understand the interactions between humans and their environments – and the consequences for ecology, economies and the climate. It’s an innovative approach, Van Der Leeuw said: AIMES will look at environmental predicaments from a social science perspective, rather than ask social scientists to respond to questions posed by the study of the environment. Speakers also discussed AIMES’s efforts to develop an open source community for creating and improving models of the planet’s dynamics. The rebooted project will run out of an International Project Office (IPO) split between Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, and Columbia University in New York, with funding from NASA.

"I’m delighted that AIMES is moving into a new phase of advancing the integrated modelling of humans and the environment,” said Wendy Broadgate, Director of Future Earth’s Global Hub in Sweden. “With new IPO staff, we have the resources to support an expanding global network of integrated modellers within Future Earth.”

Kathy Hibbard of NASA discussing the accomplishments of AIMES in its first phase. Photo: Anick Coudart

At the session, Kathy Hibbard of NASA talked about the history and accomplishments of AIMES. The project, which was originally established as part of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), has played an important role in the development of Earth System Science. The first phase of AIMES contributed to the understanding of how biogeochemistry, specifically the carbon cycle, interacts with Earth’s climate system. They included efforts to study the flux of carbon dioxide from ecosystems on land and in the ocean to the atmosphere and back again. AIMES also contributed to the coordination between the socio-economic and climate modeling communities to kick-start the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  This ensured that the impacts and mitigation communities were using the most up-to-date results from the climate models.

Van Der Leeuw, however, noted that many of these efforts did not include a crucial component of the Earth system: human society. In its new phase, AIMES will work to better grasp how human activities, from farming to building cities, influence the planet’s dynamics. As part of that, the project will strive to better integrate research by social scientists into its models. AIMES will also contribute to the work of The World in 2050, an international initiative that seeks to lay out pathways that nations can take to grow in sustainable ways.

“The next step in our development acknowledges that the true meaning of the Anthropocene seems to draw, at least tentatively, on the conclusion that the environmental conundrum that we are facing is actually not an environmental but a societal one,” Van Der Leeuw said.

And the ambitions for AIMES 2.0 are big. Because of advances in data analysis and computer performance, modellers will soon be able to simulate the activities of human populations in ways that capture their complexity, Van Der Leeuw said.

At the session, Michael Barton, also of Arizona State University, announced that scientists at his university and the University of Colorado Boulder will work to develop a “free and open source software environment” for AIMES. This platform will enable researchers around the world to crowd-source contributions to the project’s work.

In all, Van Der Leeuw is excited for what’s in store for AIMES. “How all of this will pan out in the next decade or so is yet to be seen. We are only at the start of this adventure,” he said. “But it looks like fun."