EGU 2020/2021 Alexander von Humboldt Medal Lectures
Conveners: Alberto Montanari, Helen Glaves
| Fri, 23 Apr, 11:30–12:30 (CEST), 13:30–14:30 (CEST)

Presentations: Fri, 23 Apr

Chairpersons: Alberto Montanari, Helen Glaves
Alexander von Humboldt Medal Lecture 2020
Bojie Fu

Coupling Human - Earth Systems for Sustainability

 Bojie Fu

(State Key Lab of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China

Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China)

Abstract: Human influence on the natural environment has intensified, and the earth has entered the stage of Anthropocene. Earth surface processes are gradually dominated by human behavior, resulting in numerous resources, disasters and ecological problems. The ecosystem services of 60% are degradation in the world. The one of major challenges facing the world’s people are meeting the needs of people today and in the future, and sustaining atmosphere, water, soil and biological products which provided by ecosystems. We will present how to coupling human-earth system and propose the research priorities. They are: (1) Integrating research on multiple processes of water, soil, air and ecosystem; (2) Cascades of ecosystem structure, functions and services; (3) Feedback mechanisms of natural and social systems; (4) Data, models and simulation of sustainable development;(5) Mechanism, approach and policy of sustainable development. Finally, a case study in the Loess plateau of China, an area suffered from severe soil erosion in the world was taken. The changes in four key ecosystem services including water regulation, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, and grain production were assessed and the trade off among the ecosystem services were analysed under the changing landscapes due to the Chinese government’s implementation of the Grain to Green Program (GTGP). We found that ecosystem services convert significantly. The adaptive management strategy was discussed aiming on restoring and improving the sustainable capability of ecosystems providing services, based on the understanding of structure, function and dynamics of ecosystem.

How to cite: Fu, B.: Coupling Human - Earth Systems for Sustainability, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9071,, 2021.

Lunch break
Chairpersons: Alberto Montanari, Helen Glaves
Alexander von Humboldt Medal Lecture 2021
Manfred R. Strecker

In this lecture I will first review some of Alexander von Humboldt’s studies on the importance of vertical and latitudinal temperature gradients and surface processes in the context of mountain building and thereby highlight his seminal contributions to Earth System Science. In a second step I will briefly comment on his influence beyond science, including public outreach and the general public’s Earth science literacy – in the face of fake news and distrust in scientific method and discourse, an issue more timely than ever.

The past decades have witnessed a radical shift in human perception of Earth and nature; climate change and increased competition for natural resources combined with human vulnerability to natural hazards have moved environmentalism from the fringes of public awareness to governmental policies. This shift in awareness was presaged by paradigmatic shifts in Earth Science leading to the modern view of Earth as a dynamic system of interactive physical, chemical and biological processes, and ultimately to establishment of the integrative field of Earth System Science. To a certain extent, this point of view and the realization that research across disciplinary boundaries is important and necessary to understand geoprocesses at a variety of time and length scales and in the context of linkages between the different spheres was already the fundament of Humboldt’s thinking and research philosophy during the first half of the 19th century: "The principal impulse by which I was directed was the earnest endeavor to comprehend the phenomena of physical objects in their general connection, and to represent nature as one great whole." Alexander von Humboldt, Kosmos, I, ch. VII, 1845. Although Humboldt wrote this sentence 176 years ago, it reveals his early recognition of the importance of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches in science. In this regard Humboldt clearly was ahead of his time and most research areas of modern Earth System Science had already been touched upon by him. From mineralogy, geology, volcanology, stratigraphy and paleontology to climatology, biogeography and geobotany, and oceanography he had addressed many aspects research in an integrative, non-isolationist approach. Although Humboldt published his work very early on in disciplinary journals, he followed a holistic approach in science, where inherent processes, their connections across spheres, and feedbacks between them were addressed. Consequently, he also analyzed the influence of humans on the environment, particularly with regards to changes in microclimate, erosion, and biodiversity. By recognizing these relationships he truly followed an early Earth System Science approach, thus linking the geosphere and the anthroposphere. Interestingly, during his career Humboldt devoted himself increasingly to the transfer of knowledge to the general public, which not only resulted in regular public lectures, but also had a far-reaching influence in the art world. Taken together, Humboldt therefore paved the way for an integrative approach to the exploration of the Earth’s systems beyond disciplinary boundaries, and with a strong commitment to share knowledge and educate the public.

How to cite: Strecker, M. R.: Alexander von Humboldt’s legacy in Earth System Science, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-16439,, 2021.