A warning system for the planet

11/16/2012 - Earth’s ecosystems provide benefits like food or drinking water that are of crucial importance for the well-being of humankind. But although accumulated assessments indicate increasing system failures threatening livelihoods and lives, so far no centralized system exists to monitor and report ecosystem status and changes. Aiming at a better understanding of the consequences of ecosystem service and biodiversity loss, a team of scientists, including Kirsten Thonicke and some of her colleagues from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), propose “A Global System for Monitoring Ecosystem Service Change” in a paper recently published in the science magazine “BioScience”.
A warning system for the planet
Tropical rainforest. Photo: thinkstock

“The connections between nature and society are most complex and little is known about the tipping points of our socio-ecological systems,” Thonicke says. For the first time, the scientists from the international Group on Earth Observation Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) outline a framework for a global warning system. Their design focuses on connecting existing data bases and resources, identifying gaps in observation systems and developing communicating standards. “The global monitoring system for ecosystem service change will allow us to take more complete stock of the planet’s life-support system in ways that enhance research, assessment and decision-making processes,” Thonicke says.

Though the emphasis is on a national scale, the framework can be worked downward to a local scale as well as upward to the global scale. In spite of satellites monitoring the changing extent of forests, nations and international organizations tracking the economic flows of many goods like crops or timber, and numerous programmes like the Red List for Threatened Species compiling data on the status of species and populations, many vital processes are still not monitored globally or not monitored at all. A wide-ranging warning system is therefore missing.


Article: Tallis, H., Mooney, H., Andelman, S., Balvanera, P., Cramer, W., Karp, D., Polasky, S., Reyers, B., Ricketts, T., Running, S., Thonicke, K., Tietjen, B., Walz, A. (2012): A Global System for Monitorin Ecosystem Service Change. Bioscience. Nov 2012, Vol. 62. No. 11

Weblink to article: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/bio.2012.62.11.7

Weblink GEO BON (Group on Earth Observation Biodiversity Observation Network): http://www.earthobservations.org/geobon.shtml