"It is a difficult, yet exciting time for earth sciences and land management. Increased public interest, CRC's in Salinity, CRC LEME and now Spatial Information, a National Action Plan on salinity, etc, offer opportunities to grow our disciplines. However this diversity often means the issues grow very broadly, its difficult to keep up on developments, and the science gets ahead of the adoption of its benefits.
It seems to me that we are fast approaching the situation where the science related to catchment management, for example, is too far ahead of the capacity of land holders (and policies too) to achieve the sort of outcomes expected by community and government. For example in salinity we have capacity to map its extent with satellites, map soils (radiometrics, hyperspectral, etc), regolith (AEM) and geology (magnetics) using geophysics, and run coarse-scaled land management 'impact' models. There is no shortage of technology to describe the landscape and its problems in every more intricate ways, but there is a shortage of clearly defined actions (that are specifically linked to our earth sciences) that can be profitably taken.
Neither Government, nor landholders, who after all own most of the land that we wish managed, have the cash to offer up to continue to support R&D alone. My plea is that we place less emphasis on whether we can or cant measure or map this, or model that, but seek to more closely scrutinize our capacity to first show, and then deliver, tangible benefits (to landholders in my instance) based on our increased knowledge. Without adoption of practices, the earth science upon which it is based, has a diminished value. The next is also obvious. At present Australian geoscience is focussed heavily on salinity, yet erosion (wind/water), water repellence, soil structural decline, acidification, and other issues (water resources) affect more hectares of land. In terms of agriculture, we need to balance the investment on the 70-80% of land that will never be saline, as well on that which is or maybe. Other growth areas will be climate related predictions, systems that integrate spatial / analytical platforms and numeric models (ie combined data and impact analysis systems), and cross-discipline/industry partnerships.
Finally, until Earth Sciences have a recognisable national voice / group (E.g. more like engineers and accountants), they will remain invisible in the public eye."
Some thoughts I had last night after the meeting - as a way of following the aastronomy model: The issue for ESS and sustainability is linked problems, but disconnected solutions. We recognise that environmental management is closely related to social and economic pressures, and what we need to do is encourage greater connectivity between the study of earth systems and people. We don't necessarily need new tools or vast new amounts of data, but we do need better links between the various sub-disciplines of ESS.
A way forward - ensuring that the solutions to environmental problems take advantage of the links in Earth Systems Science - a multi-disciplinary approach to the science. I tried to come up with an eye-grabbing name for this. EARTHLINK and GEOLINK seem obvious, but are already used by others