The work carried out in the integration of the results in the different Work Packages of the ICT-ENSURE Project has uncovered a number of Key priority areas for future ICT and Environment research, which relate to the nature of the dynamics complex systems. Complex dynamic systems such as the earth’s climate or the global economic system involve many interacting processes that generate discernable dynamic patterns over time and space. Recent system-level studies have begun to shed light on the way these apparently stable patterns can reach thresholds (tipping points) in their evolution, and generate system-level changes that can alter the patters and behaviour of all systems.
The first threshold (tipping point) has to do with to Peak-Oil. This threshold has already begun to manifest itself. The resource hungry market-based economy has reached a point where oil supplies can no longer keep up with the exponentially growing global demand for energy. At some point the effects of this dwindling energy source will impact every sector in every region of the world, bringing about profound changes that will emerge in every aspect of human activity. There is an urgent need to begin to conduct system-level research on the effects that these changes will bring about on the sustainability of earth’s systems.
But threshold research is most urgently needed in the climate system. Our existing climate has prevailed since the Holocene in a distinctive distribution of ocean circulation patterns, ice sheets, wind regimes, ocean currents, rain distribution patterns, biomes. These climatic characteristics can be thought of as what Schellnhuber (2009) calls the environmental face of the Earth.
The typical climate change scenarios that have been published over the years are based on gradual increases in global temperatures, sea level rise, steady melting of ice sheets, without due consideration of how these gradual changes could reach thresholds that would radically change the environmental face of the Earth.
Schellnhuber paper (2009) (http://www.pnas.org/content/106/49/20561.full
) presents several climate “tipping point” scenarios which I would propose constitute as high priority areas for ICT and Environmental Sustainability research.
The "tipping points" include the weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the impact of climate change on the dust export from the Bode´le´ Depression in Chad, the threshold in ocean-land temperature differentials that could block the Indian monsoon could be catastrophic for the livelihoods of over two hundred million people in Asia, the threshold in global warming that could fundamentally precipitate a tipping point for the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) dynamics, the effect that global warming could have on the oceans’ CO2-uptake capacities and precipitate widespread damage to entire marine ecosystems, the release of methane from the ocean floor in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and several others.
ICT research would need to focus on improving our understanding of the linkage between these climatic tipping points with social and economic processes.