Motivation and objectives

Human societies are facing grand challenges, which are expected to become even more prominent during the next decades—with climate change, availability of food, clean water and geoenergy resources being just some examples. In order to address these grand challenges, the scientific community needs to develop tools that provide decision-makers with the information required to effectively manage these issues. Earth system modelling is such a tool, as it enables investigating problems in an integrated manner considering interactions between different Earth system compartments and across scales—from local to global scales, and from weather time scales to millennia and beyond.

The Earth system is subject to natural (e.g., solar variability, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes) and anthropogenic (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, fisheries, pollution or utilization of mineral and energy resources) forcing as well as to substantial internal variability. Understanding the dynamics of and predicting the extremely complex Earth system under different forcing scenarios requires an advanced Earth system model capacity that brings together expertise from all areas of Earth system science.

In the ESM project we will develop and apply innovative Earth system modelling capacity to contribute to solving some of the grand challenges mankind is facing. Work will concentrate on enhancing the representation of Earth system model compartments, for which world-leading expertise is available within the consortium. Another cornerstone of the project will be the development of a flexible framework for the effective coupling of Earth system model components, which is challenging given the diverse nature of the components and models being coupled. Furthermore, Earth system data assimilation capacity will be advanced, as the most effective way of combining models and observations.

The Earth system modelling infrastructure will be used in a set of coordinated simulations that push the boundaries of existing numerical experimentation—referred to as frontier simulations—to provide significant progress of our knowledge base. During the three-year funding period, particular emphasis will be placed on the following research foci: enhanced multiscale global change projections, monsoon systems in a changing climate, forecasting and projecting hydro-meteorological extremes in Europe, cross-compartmental matter-cycling from land to sea, and georeservoirs under anthropogenic pressure. Work will also start on exploring socio-economic modelling.

The more scientifically focussed activities will be augmented by a strategic process involving also key external partners, which will result in an implementation plan for Earth system modelling in PoF-IV as well as a long-term Earth system modelling strategy. The strategic process, hence, plays a critical role for the following three phases: the project phase (2017– 2019), PoF-IV (2020–2026), and the long-term context (2020–2040). The overall long-term goal is the development of a world-leading, modular Earth system modelling infrastructure, the “Earth System Simulator”, the first (comprehensive but not complete) version of which is envisaged to become available towards the end of PoF-IV.

With the ESM project, the Research Field Earth and Environment makes a major step towards a more collaborative approach to Earth and environmental sciences. The project also takes up recommendations from previous evaluations (PoF-III and earlier) that call for stronger investment in Earth system modelling along with a more strategic approach including enhanced collaboration within the Helmholtz Association as well as with key national and international partners.