Scientists Awarded For UN Global Ecosystem-Human Health Study
By David Sims, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
April 4, 2007
Four UNH scientists were among the authors of the United Nations Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) recently awarded the Zayed International Prize
for the Environment, considered to be the largest and most valuable environmental
Professors Charles Vörösmarty and George Hurtt, former research
scientist Ellen Douglas, and former Ph.D. student Manoel Cardoso received
the award for their part in helping author the four-year, $21-million effort,
which was called for by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in
2000. The assessment cataloged the condition of the globe’s ecosystems
and their life-giving services.
The five-volume MEA report brings into focus the consequences of ecosystem
change for human well-being and establishes the scientific basis for actions
needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and
their contributions to human well-being.
Nearly 400 scientists served as authors of the report, which involved
input from more than 1,360 experts worldwide – including lead author
Cardoso who even while completing his doctorate was a noted expert in the
role of fires in global ecosystems. The MEA chapter Hurtt and Cardoso contributed
to dealt with the role disturbances, including floods and fires, play on
Hurtt, an ecosystem ecologist with the Institute for the Study of Earth,
Oceans, and Space (EOS) and the Department of Natural Resources and Cardoso’s
advisor at the time, said “That Manoel was a lead author in this
global study shows remarkable accomplishment by a student.” Cardoso
is now a research scientist with the National Institute for Space Research
or INPE in Brazil – that country’s equivalent of NASA.
Says Cardoso, “I didn’t expect to be part of such an important
project as a lead author before finishing graduate school. I believe that
being in a Ph.D. program at EOS, and having George Hurtt, Berrien Moore,
and others from the institute on my committee provided me with important
tools to participate in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and to produce
relevant scientific work even before graduating.” Berrien Moore is
the director of EOS.
Hurtt and Cardoso note that the MEA is analogous to the UN’s Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change or IPCC reports, the fourth of which was recently
released and states unequivocally that humans are responsible for climate
change. Both the IPCC reports and this, the first MEA, are international,
peer-reviewed, global-scale assessments. The MEA is first worldwide assessment
of the status and changes to ecosystems around the world.
An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and microorganism
communities and the nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit.
Such systems are integral to the functioning of the Earth and also provide
important products and services to humankind – including the purification
of air and water we breathe, the food we eat, and natural medicinal products.
The MEA deals with the full range of ecosystems – from those relatively
undisturbed, such as natural forests, to landscapes with mixed patterns
of human use and to ecosystems intensively managed and modified by humans,
such as agricultural land and urban areas.
Says Hurtt, “The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is openly human-centered.
The premise is that by drawing that connection – ecosystem changes
and how they affect humans – that will empower people and policymakers
Vörösmarty, of EOS and the Department of Earth Sciences, is
the director of the EOS Water Systems Analysis Group and served as the
coordinating lead author for the section on global freshwater. Of the chapter
on freshwater services that he and Douglas (now of UMass-Boston) worked
on, Vörösmarty says, “We were forced to look in new and
different ways at how the world's hydrologic cycle interacts with human
populations on a worldwide scale.”
For example, Vörösmarty notes, they were able to estimate the
number of people living in the driest and wettest halves of the Earth's
land mass and found, to their surprise, that 85 percent of all humans inhabit
the driest half, with corresponding elevated and increasing pressures of
this critical natural resource.
The $1 million Zayed prize is split into three categories: a prize of
$500,000 to an individual for global leadership; a prize of $300,000 for
scientific and technical achievement; and a prize of $200,000 for environmental
achievements having a positive impact on society.
Authors of the MEA were collectively awarded for scientific and technical
achievement, and each received a “diploma” of recognition.
The prize money goes towards furthering the work of the assessment.