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International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (U.N. Environmental Programme)

International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (U.N. Environmental Programme)

Research scientists from all countries have always interacted with each other closely. But in recent decades, a new type of internationalism has begun to evolve, in which scientists from all over the world work together on very large projects concerning the planet.

An example is research on global change. A number of scientists have come to believe that human activities, such as the use of fossil fuels and deforestation of tropical rain forests, may be altering the earth's climate . To test that hypothesis, a huge amount of meteorological data must be collected from around the world, and no single institution can possibly obtain and analyze it all.

A major effort to organize research on important, worldwide scientific questions such as climate change was begun in the early 1980s. Largely through the efforts of scientists from two United States organizations, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Research Council , a proposal was developed for the creation of an International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). The purpose of the IGBP was to help scientists from around the world focus on major issues about which there was still too little information. Activity funding comes from national governments, scientific societies, and private organizations.

IGBP was not designed to be a new organization, with new staff, new researchers, and new funding problems. Instead, it was conceived of as a coordinating program that would call on existing organizations to attack certain problems. The proposal was submitted in September 1986 to the General Assembly of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), where it received enthusiastic support.

Within two years, more than 20 nations agreed to cooperate with IGBP, forming national committees to work with the international office. A small office, administered by Harvard oceanographer James McCarthy, was installed at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

IGBP has moved forward rapidly. It identified existing programs that fit the Programme's goals and developed new research efforts. Because many global processes are gradual, a number of IGBP projects are designed with time frames of ten to twenty years.

By the early 1990s, IGBP had defined a number of projects, including the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study, the Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone study, the Biospheric Aspects of the Hydrological Cycle research, Past Global Changes, Global Analysis, Interpretation and Modeling , and Global Change System for Analysis, Research and Training.

[David E. Newton ]



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Perry, J. S. "International Institutions for the Global Environment." MTS Journal (Fall 1991): 278.


International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. [cited June 2002]. <>.

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