Human activity is believed to be having a profound influence on the global environment through inadvertent changes in the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It is almost certain that these effects are already altering global climate patterns a nd will have major impacts on the future well-being of life on earth. However, our understanding of these changes remains inadequate to predict with confidence the evolution of the earth system over the rest of this century and beyond. Advancing our unders tanding of these issues to a level that can usefully inform policy decisions requires a highly multidisciplinary and integrated research programme, necessitating the collaboration of scientists from many institutions. Unfortunately, despite its critical im portance, progress in understanding global biogeochemical cycles is being held up by two key problems. The first is the lack of an integrated European approach to research in this important field. Despite cutting edge work we are losing out to other region s through the lack of an organized research programme. Such a programme would cut across institutional and disciplinary boundaries to foster new developments that more specialized local programmes will miss. The second problem is that far too few scientist s are being trained in this research area. Major reasons for this are the cross-disciplinary nature of the science and the relatively recent appreciation of the importance of global change for future human welfare. The highly significant environmental and policy implications of human impacts on the functioning of the Earth require a rapid increase in the number of qualified scientists. To respond to this challenge we propose to create a research and training network linking key European centres of excellenc e in the field of global biogeochemical cycles, with express aims of fostering the next generation of Earth system scientists and significantly improving the quality of information to policy makers.
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