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Making the Earth Go ‘Round

Today's environmental problems can only be solved in an integrative, interdisciplinary way. But what exactly are the interacting physical, chemical, and biological mechanisms that determine Earth's climate, and how do human activities in particular influence these interactions? Furthermore, how will human activities, such as economic development, population growth, and policy implementation, affect climate in the future? Can we mitigate climate change? And if so, how?

These are--in a nutshell--the key questions in current global change research. They also embrace the focus of the International Max Planck Research School on Earth System Modelling (IMPRS-ESM), a PhD programme in English that has been put into place by the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the University of Hamburg, and several other global change research institutes in Germany combining natural science, economic, and socioeconomic expertise (see box for a complete listing). The IMPRS was inaugurated in April 2002, being one of 19 joint PhD programmes offered to date by the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, together with German universities and other research institutions.

The IMPRS provides the framework for doctoral students to participate in the development, testing, and integration of comprehensive Earth system models. These models contribute to the understanding and prediction of the interacting atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere, with humans as an integral component. Their successful development requires the collaboration of a multitude of disciplines, including most obviously the natural sciences, economics, and political science. The scientific importance of this work, but also the importance of Earth system science for societies at large, is reflected in the fact that the IMPRS has received financial support in approximately equal amounts from both the Hamburg-based ZEIT Stiftung Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius and the Max Planck Society.

Institutes That House and Support IMPRS Students

Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg

University of Hamburg

GKSS--Institute for Coastal Research, Geesthacht

Hamburg Institute of International Economics

Centre for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel

Within the IMPRS on Earth System Modelling, PhD research is combined with courses (lecture classes, seminars, and summer schools) on fundamental and specific aspects of the Earth system; the students have to collect a specified number of credit points before submitting their thesis. The lectures specifically take into account the multidisciplinary background of the students and may range from an introduction to the Earth system to classes on numerical methods, paleoclimate, resource economics, and aspects of the Kyoto mechanism. Abhay Devasthale, one of the school's young researchers who came to Hamburg from India, supports the concept: ?I feel the IMPRS-ESM is a perfect blend of an interdisciplinary team. Exchanging ideas through lecture series and discussions with friends with a wide range of expertise like physics, economics, climatology, oceanography, mathematics, and engineering, etc., has proved very informative and illuminating for me."

The scientific backgrounds of this year?s group of students cover everything from mathematics to environmental engineering and political economics. The school's speaker, and managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Prof. Guy Brasseur comments, ?We would even consider philosophers if the work fits into the context of the research."

Earth System Modelling school participants line up for a group photo.

Scientific quality, internationality, and multidisciplinarity are the keys to the IMPRS, which also seeks to attract first-class students from all over the world to Germany. The school is well on the way to meeting its goal of recruiting at least half of its students from outside Germany. In the first round of selections, we identified students who come from Fiji, India, China, and Vietnam, as well as various European countries. It is important that incoming students have a degree equivalent to a German Diploma, which generally means a master's degree with a written thesis.

In the future, establishing links with research institutes in developing countries is one of the IMPRS?s specific aims. A significant part of the school's funding has been set aside for international collaboration, which also includes the possibility of scientific exchange and inviting students to the IMPRS for short periods to attend courses. In that context, the IMPRS-ESM is collaborating closely with the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme ( IGBP).

The lecture courses are held in English, but German classes are organized to help the newcomers settle into their new environment as quickly as possible. Enrolment at the university is free, and fellowships are available to young researchers to cover living costs. The IMPRS-ESM plans to admit about 10 doctoral students to the school each year. More students will be admitted if supplementary funds become available through additional projects. The call for applications for next year's round will be launched in early September. Application details and further information can be found on the school's Web page.