Going back to 1987, when IGBP was created, there was much we did not know about our home planet. The discipline of Earth-system science – the study of Earth as a connected system – was in its infancy, having been proposed by NASA in its ‘Bretherton Reports’ (1). The modern era of satellite observations had only recently begun; scientific disciplines as well as the international community were much less integrated than they are today. The models that Earth scientists used to describe Earth’s behaviour and its future changes were much more “component-based”. Moreover, the international assessments that help to unite the community and distil enormous amounts of information into forms usable for scientists and policymakers were just getting under way: the WMO/UNEP ozone assessments did not gather steam until the mid-1980s, whereas the IPCC was not set up until 1988. That we find ourselves in a very different situation today is due in no small part to the efforts of the IGBP scientific community.
The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy.
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