Changing the way we think about global change research: Scaling up in experimental ecosystem science

Barry Osmond, Gennady Ananyev, Joseph Berry, Chris Langdon, Zbigniew Kolber, Gunghui Lin, Russell Monson, Caroline Nichol, Uwe Rascher, Uli Schurr, Stan Smith, Dan Yakir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Scaling is a naturally iterative and bi-directional component of problem solving in ecology and in climate science. Ecosystems and climate systems are unquestionably the sum of all their parts, to the smallest imaginable scale, in genomic processes or in the laws of fluid dynamics. However, in the process of scaling-up, for practical purposes the whole usually has to be construed as a good deal less than this. This essay demonstrates how controlled large-scale experiments can be used to deduce key mechanisms and thereby reduce much of the detail needed for the process of scaling-up. Collection of the relevant experimental evidence depends on controlling the environment and complexity of experiments, and on applications of technologies that report on, and integrate, small-scale processes. As the role of biological feedbacks in the behavior of climate systems is better appreciated, so the need grows for experimentally based understanding of ecosystem processes. We argue that we cannot continue as we are doing, simply observing the progress of the greenhouse gas-driven experiment in global change, and modeling its future outcomes. We have to change the way we think about climate system and ecosystem science, and in the process move to experimental modes at larger scales than previously thought achievable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-407
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Biosphere 2 laboratory
  • Chlorophyll flourescence
  • Coral reefs
  • Experimental ecosystem science
  • Global change
  • Stable isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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