Exploring the origins of Earth System Science

Exploring the Origins of Earth System Science

Earth System Science (ESS) is the research program underpinning our collective and scientific contemporary representation of the Earth, such as the Anthropocene discourse or the Earth System Models of the IPCC. It is grounded in the institutional works carried out in the 1980’s by NASA and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) which pinpointed to the existence of a new object of inquiry: the Earth System, composed of interlocking chemical, climatic and biological processes of different timescales.

ESS was presented as a revolutionary research program reorganizing entirely the Earth Sciences around the study of this new object. Its most visible outcome was the study of the Earth system on the short timescales of global changes. Important works have contributed to shed light on the history, methodology and ontology of this part of ESS and of related disciplines such as climatology, ecology, oceanography, or biogeochemistry (Aronova et al. 2010, Conway 2010, Dahan 2010, Edwards 2010, 2015, Fleming 2010, Kwa 2005, Uhrqvist and Lövbrand 2009, 2014, Westermann and Rohr 2015).

These studies have overall neglected ESS disciplines studying long term processes. By following the works, from the 19th century onward, of savants and scientists studying the long term chemistry of Earth’s surface, this project will:
(i) Trace the genealogy of the “Earth system” concept
(ii) Highlight the influence of the methods and ontologies of geochemical studies on ESS
(iii) show how and when emerged the idea that Earth chemistry has a history