ATEAM: Modelling ecosystem services

Worldchanging guest writers David Zaks and Chad Monfreda, from Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the U of Wisconsin, have a post ATEAM: Mr.T takes on ecosystems services on a project to model ecosystem services in Europe.

The ATEAM (Advanced Terrestrial Ecosystem Analysis and Modeling) project (also here and here) is not made up of rogue soldiers of fortune, but academics in Europe. The scientific assessment correlates changes in human well-being with future changes in climate and land-use. Researchers combined global climate models and land-use scenarios using innovative interdisciplinary methods to show how ecosystem goods and services are likely to change through the 21st century in Europe. ATEAM paints a mixed picture of the continent divided into a vulnerable south and adaptive north. The results are freely available online as a downloadable (PC only) mapping tool that displays the vulnerability of six key sectors: agriculture, forestry, carbon storage and energy, water and biodiversity.Stakeholder input helped to quantify regional adaptive capacity, while climate and land-use models estimated potential impacts. Adaptive capacity and potential impacts together define the overall vulnerability of individual ecosystem services. Even when ‘potential impacts’ are fixed, differential vulnerability across Europe indicates an opportunity to boost ‘adaptive capacity’. Emphasis on adaptation certainly doesn’t condone inaction on climate change and environmental degradation. Rather it stresses resilience in a world that must prepare for surprise threats that are increasingly the norm.

ATEAM is a wonderful example of sustainability science that lets people imagine the possible futures being shaped through decisions taken today. Integrated assessments like ATEAM and the MA (also here) have a huge potential to create a sustainable biosphere by offering solutions that are at once technical and social. Combined with many ideas that WC readers are already familiar with—planetary extension of real-time monitoring networks, open source scenario building, and pervasive citizen participation—the next generation of assessments could help tip the meaning of ‘global change’ from gloomy to bright green.

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