Reflections from the EC-ESA Earth System Science Initiative workshop, held in Italy, November 2023
The coming decades present us with vast challenges. Population growth is expected to increase pressure on critical resources such as fresh water and food, intensifying stress on land and marine ecosystems. Climate change is likely to exacerbate these issues, especially for vulnerable populations.
In 2020, driven by a common vision to tackle these challenges, the European Commission (EC) and the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Earth System Science Initiative. The initiative supports collaborative, interdisciplinary science, uniting researchers through programmes of work that seek to address important scientific problems and pursue ambitious scientific goals.
We were delighted to join the initiative for “Science for a Green and Sustainable Society”, an extensive 3-day workshop in late November 2023, in Frascati, Italy. The workshop united attendees through a series of plenary and parallel sessions, focused on remote sensing and their applications within the six areas of Earth science: Oceans, Polar, Carbon, Agriculture, Biodiversity and Extremes.
We were invited to present at the Oceans cluster, as part of a session focused on ocean health and biodiversity. Our project coordinator Colomban de Vargas presented BIOcean5D, alongside representatives of our sister project MARBEFES and EC-funded projects OBAMA-NEXT, MARCO-BOLO. Also joining the session were ESA-funded programmes BICOME, HyperBOOST and BOOMS.
Highlighting the importance of biological sciences
In addition to sharing scientific advances and ideas, a core aim of the workshop was to look for research effort overlaps between ESA- and EC-projects and to identify major scientific gaps in need of solutions. Outcomes from the discussion will help to shape the initiative’s future priorities and lead to targeted workshops, networking opportunities and funding calls.
As part of BIOcean5D’s presentation, Colomban de Vargas pointed to a major opportunity in ocean sciences: to unlock a deeper understanding of the microbial basis of marine life, which intricately sustains ocean health but is often overlooked. He specifically highlighted the importance of biological sciences and their integration with physical, chemical and other sciences, to understand ocean life and develop accurate predictive models of the future.
Through BIOcean5D and our network of partners, including EMBL’s TREC expedition, Tara Oceans Foundation and the EMBRC, we are helping to address this challenge. At our core is the collection of a unique set of biological samples and data from across Europe’s coastlines and a diverse team of scientists seeking to understand how marine biodiversity changes across the dimensions of space, time and human impact.
If we are to make progress against some of the challenges we face as a society, scientific organisations and initiatives should continue funding multidisciplinary research that seeks to understand life at all scales. As Colomban highlighted, particularly, we need to understand the complex network of microorganisms that help our oceans and our planet to thrive.