The History of Earth System Research in the Max Planck Society

The project focuses on geoscientific research in the Max-Planck-Society with an emphasis on integrative research approaches, which played an active role on the epistemical, conceptual and political level of the so-called “Earth System Sciences” (ESS). The ESS can be defined as a currently manifesting scientific field, whose origins reach back to the beginnings of the modern atmospheric sciences in the mid-1960s. In West Germany, this formation process took place with a ten year delay in comparison to the USA. During that time, a new integrative perspective on processes in the atmosphere was established which considered chemical and physical processes not only in the atmosphere but also between the atmosphere and other Earth spheres, e.g. bio- and geosphere. Nowadays, these spheres can be understood as parts of the “Earth System”. Many topics in the context of Earth system thinking and research were highly relevant in societal and political contexts and discourses: climate change, nuclear winter, CFC‘s and the ozone layer as well as current debates on the anthropocene and geo-engineering are just a few of the iconic catchphrases which achieved tremendous political and public attention.

The MPG was highly active in Earth system research and shaped the field significantly on the national and international level. The project focuses on the concerned Max Planck Institutes (e.g. Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, for Meteorology, and for Biogeochemistry) with regard to the development of the ESS, the internal and external negotiations of these institutes and their role in scientific and political discourses.

Dr. Gregor Lax