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The laboratory for research on our environment is the whole planet. The Earth's systems are characterized by a multitude of interrelations on a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. Many natural processes are self-organising, giving rise to a high degree of variety and complexity.

The systems are diverse:

  • Earth deformation processes and plate tectonics;
  • physical and chemical dynamics of the atmosphere;
  • the marine systems covering two/thirds of our planet, and
  • the living world ranging from the diversity of DNA and proteins up to ecological communities.

Understanding these systems is not possible by simply extrapolating their behaviour from the single units of which they are composed. A different approach is needed, in which modelling and simulation techniques are used to detect patterns of correlation between the various types of observation, in a way that enables the underlying processes and collective organisations to be uncovered.

Such analysis techniques assume the availability of sufficient instruments and sensors and the existence of large-scale databases containing well-validated observations and measurements of the various components of the environmental system.

Advanced analytical and modelling software is needed, in addition to sufficient computational capacity to run demanding workflows on huge data sets. These requirements together define an integrated e-infrastructure environment integrating the observatories, sensors, data, software, models and computation facilities at an appropriately large scale.