Rocks, water, air, space… and humans: an NSF recipe for AGU success

Nov. 26, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge

The National Science Foundation is suggesting adding a bit of spice to a geophysical scientist’s research recipe of rocks, water, air, space and life:


At next month’s Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) a behemoth of a conference of nearly 20,000 Earth and space scientists, educators, students and policy makers, an international group of scientists will make the case for adding the human element to their research.

The International Network of Research in Coupled Human and Natural Systems – CHANS-Net – is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program.

The coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) approach means gaining a broader, more holistic understanding of the crucial questions of sustainability. Looking at ways for both the environment and people to thrive is at the core of CHANS, said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, principal investigator of CHANS-Net and Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at Michigan State University.

Bringing CHANS-Net to AGU – Dec. 3-7 in San Francisco -- is planting the seeds of ideas about ways to take research to a new level and is offering help finding collaborators who can help open those doors.  

CHANS-Net is some 1,100 members strong across the globe – natural scientists, engineers, social scientists and economists and many others. The nexus is a website,, which has searchable databases to locate potential collaborators, as well as some 500 scientific papers.

And there are also funding possibilities. This year alone, NSF awarded $17.6 million in CNH funding.

"AGU presentations focusing on coupled natural-human systems research will provide geoscientists with insights into the ways that social and behavioral science can complement biophysical science to give fuller, more complete, and more useful new insights into a broad range of environmental issues," said Tom Baerwald, NSF CNH program director.

To familiarize the AGU members with the possibilities of coupling human and natural systems, CHANS-Net is helping to organizing and supporting oral and poster sessions that showcase examples of what can be achieved by casting a wider research net.

There also will be a town hall meeting 12:30-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, called “Engaging with Coupled Human and Natural Systems.” Liu and Baerwald will give overviews of the program, and two researchers will talk about their experiences, and rewards, of mixing human and natural systems.

“For some researchers, this sort of work may seem unfamiliar, but the possibilities are exciting, the support for it is gratifying, and the payoff can be remarkable advances in sustainability,” Liu said. “This is a tremendous group of scientists, one that always is looking for more partners to tackle the world’s big challenges.”  


Sue Nichols, (517) 432-0206