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Earth System Science Group

The Earth System Science Group (previously known as Gaia Earth Systems Science Group) focuses on understanding the Earth as a whole system, comprising life and its environment, including the atmosphere, ocean, sea-ice, land surface, ice sheets, and crustal rocks. 

The group's research interests span the full range of Earth system timescales, from the formation of the planet 4.6 billion years ago to current and future human-induced global change. We are particularly interested in the ongoing co-evolution of life and the environment.

For the most up to date information visit the

Earth System Science Group website


In the 1960's, James Lovelock, through his research on the composition of the atmosphere with NASA, developed the controversial concept now known as Gaia. Gaia regards the Earth as a living totality, a self regulating system that maintains 'comfortable' conditions for and by life itself. The idea of Gaia brings together all areas of science and this is one of the reasons why it remained largely an unexplored field for many years. 

The concept of the earth as a self-maintaining system - Gaia - is now widely accepted as a reputable part of physical science. But this is not just a scientific doctrine. It is also a large and extraordinarily fruitful idea. It affects areas of our life that lie far outside science - for instance politics, psychology, economics, agriculture, industry, ethics and religion. 

On all these matters it can provide new and useful ways of thinking. Human impact on the planet is mounting and the need for sustainable development is becoming more urgent. Current scientific thinking is proving inadequate to cope with the complexities of the resulting environmental problems, and while there is a recognition that 'joined-up thinking' is essential if we are going to move towards sustainability, it is not clear what this means in practice.

This emerging paradigm can help to correct the limitations of such narrowly reductionist theories as neo-Darwinism to guide our actions in a complex world. It has profound implications for how we view ourselves, how we treat each other, how we treat other species, how we think about community, and how we respond to change. A great deal will depend on the way in which this new paradigm is now developed.

Our Events


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Lovelock Centenary

29 - 31 July 2019

Venue: Exeter University, Exeter

  • Conference
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Sir Crispin Tickell


Dr Susan Canney