On the development and education of the discipline of Earth system science

Near the end of the 20th century, as the science and technology advance and the prominence of issues related to global change, Earth system science emerged as a new science addressing global change problems for sustainable development. Several institutions in China have established educational and research programs on Earth system science. Although there has been a well-formed framework, how to develop this new science in China and to promote higher education in Chinese universities requires careful organization and planning. First, how to develop the curriculum of Earth system science? Education of Earth system science needs to face with the demands of the society, to cover both the academic and application aspects. Meeting the nation's sustainable devel- opment requirements and enabling future employments of students should be considered as the top priority. For undergrad- uate education, Earth system science should include an introduction level common course open to the entire university. Sustainable development is such an important subject to the nation and to global governance, it should become a major component in the curriculum of Earth system science for university-wide instruction. Students at the graduate level should be divided into two groups. Those with academic interests should focus on strengthening basic knowledge in var- ious interdisciplinary subjects. Emphasis on Earth system science training should be placed on the ability of students in raising critical questions in cross-disciplinary fields. On the practical aspects, Earth system science training should pay attention to the extension capability of students in applying learned knowledge to such fields as environmental protection, health, energy, finance, insurance and others where Earth system science skills are highly demanded. Since Earth system science is highly interdisciplinary, not a single program can cover every aspect. For example, we proposed four major directions on global change and Earth system science, i.e, Earth observatio