Use the future to build the present
Transition Ecosystems
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1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy
1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy

Sub-Field:

3.5.2Transition Ecosystems

One of the world’s key transition ecosystems is the interface between the cryosphere and the hydrosphere, where glaciers melt into the streams they feed. What happens downstream of the cryosphere is a bellwether for climate change because these zones are extremely sensitive to warming.

These transition environments boast a rich biodiversity, including cold-adapted microbes, algae, fungi and archaea, making them fertile ground for bioprospecting. They also provide vast amounts of nutrients, such as phosphate, which enters the planet’s mountain river systems in the form of “glacial flour”: fine-grained rock ground from bedrock. Life on earth depends on phosphorus, and as glaciers disappear, less and less phosphate enters glacier-fed waterways, with potentially huge impact on life downstream.

We know too little about these ecosystems, yet they are steadily disappearing before our eyes. The rate at which the world’s glaciers are thinning doubled in the first 20 years of this century.11 Over the next 25 years, some regions of the Earth — including central Europe — are already expected to lose more than half of their current glacial mass.12 Due to climate inertia, these changes are largely locked in. We have a closing window in which to redouble our bioprospecting efforts, before many of these transition ecosystems melt away forever and valuable knowledge about those micro-organisms vanishes.

Future Horizons:

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5-yearhorizon

Storage and study of cold-adapted organisms begins

Scientists around the world collect samples of the cold-adapted biodiversity that exists in these frontier ecosystems. The beginnings of an international repository to store and preserve such microorganisms, fashioned after Svalbard Global Seed Vault, is initiated, with genetic sequences of these microorganisms shared to an open-access database. Cold-adapted enzymes, discovered from bioprospected organisms in glacial zones, generate significant and low-waste bio-activity at low temperatures. These exquisitely tuned biological catalysts are now in widespread use, making industrial, medical and many other processes more efficient and environmentally friendlier.13

10-yearhorizon

Transition ecosystems inform Earth modelling

The integration of biodiversity models of these transition ecosystem into larger-scale Earth-system simulations helps to produce predictions of the effects of glacier loss.

25-yearhorizon

Glacial bioprospecting pays off

Metagenomic analysis of the world’s glacial transition ecosystems results in a comprehensive public repository of genetic information about these rapidly disappearing environments.

Transition Ecosystems - Anticipation Scores

How the experts see this field in terms of the expected time to maturity, transformational effect across science and industries, current state of awareness among stakeholders and its possible impact on people, society and the planet. See methodology for more information.

GESDA Best Reads and Key Resources