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Trends Ecol Evol. 2009 Aug;24(8):427-30. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2009.03.006. Epub 2009 May 4.

Systematic long-term observations of the global carbon cycle.

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CSIR Natural Resources and Environment, PO Box 395, Pretoria 0001, South Africa.


Imagine a meeting convened to avert a global financial crisis where none of the finance ministers had access to reliable information on changes in the stock market, national gross domestic product or international trade flows. It is hardly conceivable. Yet the infinitely more existence-threatening planetary social and ecological crisis we refer to as 'global change' (comprising the linked issues of biogeochemical, climate, biotic and human system change) is in an analogous situation. Our information on the profound and accelerating changes currently depends to an unacceptable degree on serendipity, individual passion, redirected funding and the largely uncoordinated efforts of a few nations. The thesis of this paper is that navigation of the very narrow 'safe passages' that lie ahead requires a comprehensive and systematic approach to Earth observations, supported by a globally coordinated long-term funding mechanism. We developed the argument based on observations of the carbon cycle, because the issues there are compelling and easily demonstrated, but we believe the conclusions also to be true for many other types of observations relating to the state and management of the biosphere.

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