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Humankind is totally dependent upon the products and services (such as the availability of fresh water, food, fibre and fuel) delivered by ecosystems and the biosphere. Between one third and a half of the land surface has been modified directly by human activity, and over one half of the accessible surface waters have been put to use.

In parallel, the human population has grown from ~1 billion at the start of the Industrial Revolution to 7 billion now, and set to add another billion by 2024. In short, although this is a planet now utterly modified by human activity its ability to support Humankind is entirely dependent upon the biosphere, including the remaining wild-lands.

In this theme our emphases are therefore on understanding and predicting the effects of environmental change in degraded, marginal and extreme environments, both managed and unmanaged, and advancing understanding of biogeochemistry and the coupling between ecosystems and the Earth System. For example, we currently work on element cycling in the Arctic, where rapid environmental change is driving sensitive ecosystems towards tipping points and where there are exceptionally strong linkages between the biosphere and the climate system.

A principal aspiration for the future is to strengthen our Earth System approach by explicitly integrating terrestrial, freshwater and marine sciences through process research and modelling activities.