Study Climate and Global Change Print E-mail

What is global change?

"Global change" refers to changes in the global environment that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life. This includes alterations in:

  • Climate
  • Land productivity
  • Oceans or other water resources
  • Atmospheric chemistry
  • Ecological systems
  • Demographic and socioeconomic trends

What is global change research?

According to the Global Change Research Act of 1990, "Global change research" refers to the study, monitoring, assessment, prediction, and information management activities used to describe and understand the:

  • Interactive, physical, chemical, and biological processes that regulate the total Earth system
  • Unique environment that the Earth provides for life
  • Changes that are occurring in the Earth system
  • Manner in which such system, environment, and changes are influenced by human actions

Why do we study both climate and global change?


USGCRP has broadened its range of emphasis over time, from a primary focus on climate science toward a deeper integration of other Earth system science disciplines.

This broader view is needed for effective responses to global change because such decisions rarely involve climate change in isolation. For many systems and sectors, particularly at local scales and in the near-term, climate change is not the only important stressor.

For example, land clearing, urbanization and changes in transportation systems, and unsustainable agricultural practices, like poor irrigation management and overgrazing, are often the dominant drivers of ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss, and the decline of water availability and quality.

Climate change is likely to exacerbate many of the risks associated with these stressors, by further taxing the already compromised resilience of natural systems, and reducing the choices open to individuals, families, and policy makers.

Why do we need to study climate and global change?

The environment is changing rapidly. Increases in world population, accompanied by industrialization and other human activities, are altering the atmosphere, ocean, land, ice cover, ecosystems, and the distribution of species over the planet. Understanding these and other global changes, including climate change, is critical to our Nation’s health and economic vitality. Scientific research is critical to gaining this understanding.

Research, along with an array of increasingly sophisticated tools for collecting and analyzing data, can provide essential knowledge to governments, businesses, and communities as they plan for and respond to the myriad manifestations of global change, including sea-level rise and ocean acidification, heat waves and drought, and the severe storms, floods, and forest fires that pose an ever-growing risk to life, property, and agriculture.

Making the best decisions with regard to global change will depend on a well-grounded understanding of the Earth system and the changes taking place within it.

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