Climate change: Scottish researchers publish new map

It shows how their experience working with farmers on lands that have been dramatically changed by human activity showed ways in which the “critical zone” can be protected.

The critical zone is a thin layer on the Earth’s surface, extending from underground water sources to above plants and trees, that supports and maintains animal and plant life by regulating the flow of water, greenhouse gases, nutrients, and energy.

Access to food, drinking water and clean air depends on a well-functioning critical area, but decades of human activity have degraded the condition of the area worldwide.

Their ideas are summarized in a new infographic, which seeks to visually convey human impact on Earth’s critical region more clearly than ever before. The researchers suggest that the new diagram should replace a more simplistic and widely used diagram, introduced in 2007, which focused on the natural processes that make up the critical zone without addressing human impact on the landscape.

Herald: Humans are key modifiers of landscape processes that support ecosystems and humanity Humans are key modifiers of landscape processes that support ecological and human systems (Image: Naylor et al. (2023a))

The new scheme is intended for use by academics across a range of fields for research and teaching purposes, by government agencies funding science and landscape management, and in essential teaching resources such as textbooks. It shows more clearly how human activities such as agriculture, mining, forestry and industry can pollute water, cause soil erosion and pollute the atmosphere.

Professor Larissa Naylor, from the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, led the design of the new scheme and is the corresponding author of the paper. “Humans have dramatically modified the Earth for approximately 12,000 years through agriculture, mining, forestry and urbanization,” she said.

“We have changed our environment to such an extent that we have created a new geological epoch through our modifications to the critical zone. In this new epoch, which many now call the Anthropocene, the impacts of our activities penetrate through the soil into the geology below and into the local atmosphere above, forcing natural cycles On change.

Herald: Local knowledge is invaluable for understanding environmental science data in human-modified landscapesLocal knowledge is invaluable for understanding environmental science data in human-modified landscapes (Image: Naylor et al.)

Co-author Janlin Zhang, from the Institute of Soil Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing, China, added: “We can see the effects of those changes in faster erosion rates that lead to soil degradation, for example, or through greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.” This directly affects the ecosystems that support human life, including the livelihoods of farmers and local communities.

The need to improve and redesign the current approach to critical zone science became clear to the research team while working at the four critical zone observatories in China. In recent decades, a series of critical zone observatories, or CZOs, have been established around the world to serve as “living laboratories” for critical zone science.

The researchers set out to find out how changes in Chinese government policy, aimed at restoring degraded landscapes and reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers, affected land performance across urban area organizations. They also conducted research to find out how farmers learned about new policies, shared information with each other about best practices, and adapted their approach to land management.

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Professor Jennifer Dungate, from the University of Exeter and Scotland Rural College (SRUC), is the joint lead author of this paper. “Farmers and local communities are on the front lines of local land management, with a wealth of knowledge about how to farm productively and sustainably in their native environment,” she said. “We have shown that this knowledge is vital to improving our scientific understanding of critical zone systems.”

Professor Paul Hallett, from the University of Aberdeen, a co-author of the study, added: “High-quality critical area science is vital to help governments, charities, funders and other organizations make important decisions about how to slow environmental degradation.” nature so that it can better meet the challenges of climate change.”

Professor Naylor said: “In order to help them make the best decisions, we need to draw on this local knowledge, and work with communities to design and share interdisciplinary science in a way that directly benefits local communities and is understandable to the general public. This is what this new scheme aims to do.” By making human impacts on the critical area more visible, previous schemes have focused on the theoretically pristine natural environment, which has had less engagement with the physical reality of the heavily modified human-modified environments inhabited and shaped by local communities.

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Professor Timothy Quinn, from the University of Exeter, is another co-author on this paper. “The insights gained from our work with Chinese farmers were fundamental to the development of our new conceptual scheme, which represents a wide range of human impacts on terrestrial landscapes in rural and peri-urban areas,” he said. “It more clearly demonstrates the fundamental role that the human technosphere plays in shaping the Earth.” Their landscapes and ecosystems support human life and wildlife that provide functions vital to sustaining life, such as pollination.

“It thus represents a critical change in visually conveying the impacts of human activities at the watershed scale of the Anthropocene on landscape change and ecosystem degradation.”

Professor Naylor added: “The key lesson learned is that local people show resilience in maintaining their livelihoods in degraded ecosystems, and that this knowledge is fundamental to interpreting scientific findings in human-modified landscapes. In short, we have understood our scientific findings better.” By linking it to how local people use their land.

“We simply cannot use critical zone science to properly achieve the UN Sustainable Development and Planetary Health Goals without engaging local people, and without recognizing the impact that humans have already had on the critical zone. Local knowledge will help ensure critical zone science can support sustainable social and economic development.” Effectively by improving the ecosystems of the places where people live and work.

“Our hope is that this research will serve as a beacon for other ecologists to point the way to a more integrated approach to conserving our environment, and help governments and communities align more effectively with scientists to achieve better outcomes at the local and national levels.” and global levels.”

The research is published in the journal Earth’s future. A second paper, published at the same time in the same journal, outlines lessons learned from researchers’ work with smallholder farmers in China, and proposes new social science approaches to understanding the learning preferences of local people participating in critical area observatories.

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