In August 2003, in the midst of the hottest European summer on record, the journal Nature entitled an editorial “Welcome to the Anthropocene”. The editors explained how the Earth has become an ‘anthropogenic planet’ in which its natural systems are marked by, and often profoundly influenced by, human activity. Management of the ‘anthropogenic planet’ presents enormous challenges to engineers. For example, to plan and design water resource systems require a capacity to analyse the behaviour of whole river basins over timescales of decades, to simulate and test the effectiveness of alternative management options and to monitor and modify the system performance. This process of rationally ‘engineering’ coupled technological, human and natural systems is referred to as Earth Systems Engineering and Management.

Global Environmental Change (including climate change) is a vivid example of how human choices, amplified by technology, can have impacts at a very wide range of scales, up to the global scale. Earth Systems Engineering and Management (ESEM) emerged around the start of the new millennium as a new paradigm that sought to define how interventions within an increasingly Anthropogenic Earth can be engineered and managed into the future. ESEM has been associated with proposals for large scale ‘geo-engineering’ of the climate system, but in fact the aims of ESEM are much broader and necessarily encompass engineering interventions at a range of scales, in subsystems including cities, river basins and coasts, as well as at a global scale. ESEM is highly practical in that it relates to how engineering decisions can take better account of long term changes (e.g. in the climate, land use and human behaviour), societal interactions (e.g. between the built environment, transport demand and greenhouse gas emissions) and uncertainties, when traditional engineering assumptions of stationarity seldom apply.

The Centre for Earth Systems Engineering Research (CESER) is motivated by the recognition that management of the physical infrastructure systems that sustain society must in future be based upon analysis, at an unprecedented range of spatial and temporal scales, of interacting technological, human and natural systems. To realise this vision requires the new generation of techniques, tools and system-scale applications that we are advancing.

The urgent need for adaptation to climate change has now been recognised at the highest level of government. Engineers have a central role in developing solutions to this complex systems problem. However, the models, techniques and tools that are required to enable management of complex coupled technological, human and natural systems do not yet exist. Decisions are being made without sufficient understanding of long term changes, impacts, interactions and uncertainties. The implications for sustainability are critical.

Building upon a unique capacity for analysis of long term change and climate impacts in water and infrastructure systems, CESER is dedicated to understanding and modelling of processes of change within coupled technological, human and natural systems. We use our knowledge to inform the sustainable management of these complex systems, through development of data acquisition, simulation, decision analysis and visualisation tools and techniques to underpin the sustainable management of infrastructure systems.

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