Civilization depends on the health of the earth’s natural systems.  Human activities are now having major impacts on water availability, on biodiversity and species’ distributions, and even on basic element cycles at the core of Earth’s balanced function.  Large scale changes to the Earth’s ecosystems now threaten their ability to continue to provide the services upon which humans depend -- air and water purification, food and fiber provisioning, climate modulation, removal of toxins, and cultural and spiritual enrichment.

The Ecosystems Center was founded more than four decades ago with the mission of investigating the structure and function of ecological systems and their response to changing environmental conditions, and applying that knowledge to the wise management of natural resources. This work is more and more urgent as societies mitigate the effects of climate change that are already evident, and work to advance sustainable solutions for managing and restoring ecosystems into the future.

Critical to understanding the operation of Earth’s life support systems, and sustaining their functions, is the recognition that complex system behavior results from the interlinked activities of components arrayed from microbial to global scales.  Without this synthesis, critical feedbacks among ecosystems, and with the earth’s climate system, cannot be understood or predicted.  This synthesis can only be achieved by bringing together knowledge from different spatial and temporal scales and by incorporating diverse disciplinary perspectives.  Our overall goal is to lead the effort to bridge these scales and disciplines to develop the depth of knowledge, and the new tools necessary, to understand and predict the complex behavior of the earth’s natural systems and how they will change in the future.

The MBL and the Ecosystems Center are remarkably well suited to the task. The year-round community is close-knit and highly interactive, and the Ecosystems Center leads the convening of very large networks of collaborators from very diverse disciplines, and from multiple institutions, for research at arctic, coastal, and open ocean sites now at the frontlines of global change.