The emergence and evolution of Earth System Science

Earth System Science (ESS) is a rapidly emerging transdisciplinary endeavour aimed at understanding the structure and functioning of the Earth as a complex, adaptive system. Here, we discuss the emergence and evolution of ESS, outlining the importance of these developments in advancing our understanding of global change. Inspired by early work on biosphere–geosphere interactions and by novel perspectives such as the Gaia hypothesis, ESS emerged in the 1980s following demands for a new ‘science of the Earth’. The International Geosphere- Biosphere Programme soon followed, leading to an unprecedented level of international commitment and disciplinary integration. ESS has produced new concepts and frameworks central to the global- change discourse, including the Anthropocene, tipping elements and planetary boundaries. Moving forward, the grand challenge for ESS is to achieve a deep integration of biophysical processes and human dynamics to build a truly unified understanding of the Earth System.