Earth system science should not be understood as an allembracing term that combines various disciplines studying the planet Earth. Rather, it is a new approach to consider interaction between its various subsystems, and seeks to integrate various research fields to understand the Earth as a system. Earth system science has developed from global changes studies, then extended into the deep geological past and now is facing a new challenge connecting the surface processes with those in the Earth’s interior.
Drastic changes in the deep Earth processes and paleoenvironments on the surface occurred in Asia and surrounding regions during the Cenozoic. Driven by India-Asia collision and Pacific plate subduction, the Tibet Plateau region in the west gained its high elevation, whereas lithosphere in east China lost its thickness, and West Pacific margin seas opened, all of which led to the establishment of the present-day topography and drainage pattern. These tectonic-geomorphic processes interplayed with global cooling, re-organization of northern westerlies, Asian monsoon regime and biogeography in this region, which have become the frontier topics in earth sciences.
Studies on the coral reefs of the South China Sea (SCS) was the theme of the 6th Session of the 3rd Conference on Earth System Science (CESS) in Shanghai, 2014. This session discussed the most recent study developments on the SCS coral reefs, including coral reefs’ responses to global changes, coral reefs’ records on past climatic variations, and the activities about constructions and oilgas explorations in the coral reefs areas of the SCS. Disturbed by intensive anthropogenic activities and global climate warming, coral reefs in the SCS have declined dramatically, reflecting the up to 80% decrease of living coral cover and many areas having less than 20% of living coral cover. Geochemical data of SCS coral skeletons clearly show that since the Industry Revolution, the pollution situation of the SCS have dramatically increased and the seawater pH values have been continuously lowering, i.e. oceanic acidification. All these environmental phenomenon are further stressing the healthy development of the coral reef ecosystem in the SCS. Meanwhile, the poor coral reef ecosystems in the SCS are facing more anthropogenic disturbances such as coastal developments and engineering constructions. Obviously, the SCS coral reefs will be faced with more environmental challenges in the coming future. We therefore suggest that the policy makers should realize the extreme importance and the fragile of the coral reef ecosystems, and scientifically and with great cautions design construction project when in coral reef areas. We initiated the concept of “green engineering” for future developments in coral reef areas. Coral reefs are widely spreading in the whole SCS, and most of them developed since Miocene. Variations in coral reef structures provide good future oil-gas exploration. Because the SCS coral reefs have a long-developing history and a wide spatial distribution, they provide great potential in recording past environmental changes.
The ocean is the world’s largest active carbon pool and buffers global climate change. Current scientific research focuses on ocean carbon cycling and carbon sequestration mechanisms. The new cognition can be successfully reached only through interdisciplinary and integrative studies of the past and present oceans.
Comparative planetology is an interdisciplinary science between Earth sciences and astronomy. It studies physical, chemical and dynamical properties of planets and satellites and their surface characteristics, interior structures and chemistry, magnetic field, climate and possible existence of life. Although the study of comparative planetary science is at its infancy stage in China, it is very encouraging to see that 25 papers were received by the session, which is much more than what we expected. It indicates that more and more scientists are interested in this research field. These papers can be classified into three categories: solar planets, extra-solar planets, and moon explorations. Scientists from both China and oversea reported their recent results.
Since 2010, China has become the second biggest publisher of scientific research papers in the world, but remains far behind the global leadership with regards to the ability of creative innovation. Just like its economy, Chinese science is at a turning point, and the key is to avoid the “Middle-income trap”. Instead of blindly going after quantity of SCI publications, Earth science in China is to address major scientific problems and to perform transition to a new level of innovative researches. This is a written speech to the 4th Conference on Earth System Science,Shanghai.
The response and feedback of ocean carbon sequestration to climate changes is a international hot topic and requires large spatial/temporal scale, collaborative and multi-disciplinary research. In the first conference of GRC Ocean biogeochemistry, scientists focus on three biologically-driven ocean carbon pumps (Biological Pump, BP; Microbial Carbon Pump, MCP; Carbonate Counter Pump, CCP) and their environmental and climate consequences. As a sister meeting in China, we organized the session to show the efforts and progress of ocean carbon sequestration of Chinese scientists. The microbial ecological processes of phytoplankton, bacteria, archaea and viruses and interactions between them were highlighted in the session. Use coral reefs in the South China Sea as an example, the presenters and the participants come to an agreement that interdisciplinary collaborations are needed to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the interactions between microbes and their geochemical environment and the consequences of microbial processing of carbon on outgassing of CO2 and carbon sequestration. The session also have presentations focusing on paleo-environmental reconstruction for carbon sinks as well as their paleo-ecological effects in ancient oceans with time spanning from the 1.8~0.8 Ga Proterozoic to the 2.5 Ma Quaternary. These talks provide specific geological cases for the oceanic carbon sink research and convey the emerging geological view of paleooceanic carbon sinks to the research community of modern ocean carbon sinks. As a summary, the discussion in this session of biological pump, microbial carbon pump and carbonate counter pump shows the latest research progress and future development trend in this field.
Coevolution between terrestrial ecosystem and Earth environment is a hot research topic in both biology and geology. Last progresses in these field are reported from following research subjects: evolution of jawed vertebrates(gnathostomata) from Silurian; occurrence of earliest forests from Devonian of Xinjiang; biodiversity of insects in amber from Cretaceous of Myanmar; Evolution of primates and geochemistry studies from Eocene/Oligocene; studies of Longdan fauna from Lingxia basin, Gansu Province of earlier Pleistocene and endemic cloven-breast fishes from Pliocene Tibet; the correlations thick-boned fish,Hsianwenia wui, and the aridification of the Qaidam Basin; monsoon climate and its impact on biodiversity; study on the flora from Mankang, Tibet of Miocene and its palaeoclimate; depositional environment and its impact on the preservation of fossils; contraction of high resolution Stratigraphic series by using data of paleomagnetism and mammal fossils.
The evolution and future projection of the regional and global monsoons, one of the major components of Earth climate system in the low-latitudes and middle-latitudes, has long been the research focus in the paleoclimate and modern climate communities. Session 4 of the 4th Conference on Earth System Sciences (CESS) in Shanghai focused on the evolution, variability, and driving mechanism of regional and global monsoon system across multiple timescale, and the role of the monsoon system in changes in the Earth system. During the session, the issues of features of past and contemporary monsoons based on observation data and geological reconstruction, model simulation of past and contemporary monsoons, and response of monsoon climate to the past and present global warming were intensively discussed. The future research directions were also addressed.
Revealing the controlling effect of geological structure on seafloor hydrothermal activities is of great significance in understanding the formation mechanism of hydrothermal system and searching for seafloor sulfide resources. This article summarized the topography and faults, crustal structure, gravity and magnetic field, heat flow and magmatism in the middle and southern Okinawa Trough, as well as the general characteristics of hydrothermal field distributions and hydrothermal products. By comparing the Okinawa Trough with the Manus Basin, Mariana Trough, North Fiji Basin and Lau Basin with different rock basements and extension stages, we generalized some specific geological characteristics of the Okinawa Trough, including the transitional crustal nature, low extension degree, high heat flow value, extremely thick sediments, and bimodal volcanism. The hydrothermal activities in the Okinawa Trough are controlled by fault structures, magmatism, and spreading rate, and at the same time, are affected by basement rock types and sediment covers. In the middle and southern parts of the trough, two group of faults that are parallel and perpendicular to the strike of the back-arc basin promote the fluid circulation, and large-scale magmatic activity provides sufficient heat for the hydrothermal system. In addition, the interaction of fluids with the widespread silicic volcanic rocks and thick sediments leads to the enrichment of organic matter, CO 2, and metals such as Ag and Au in the hydrothermal products. According to the extension rate and geological features of the Okinawa Trough, we believe that the Okinawa Trough has potential to have new hydrothermal fields discovered and we speculate that new hydrothermal fields most possibly exist in the regions influenced by ridge subduction as well as the neo-volcanic zones closed to the island arc.
Cyclic steps structure derived from the supercritical flows is one of the common bedforms， which is commonly found in sedimentary systems such as delta systems， deep-water canyon-channel systems， and carbonate platforms. In this paper， the research progresses of cyclic steps were introduced from the aspects of sedimentary environment， the features of bedforms， sedimentary structure， formation mechanism， and numerical simulation. The Research scale differences associated with the survey techniques or study methods， such as the ship survey and AUV-based multi-beams， sub-bottom profiles， multichannel seismic， the field outcrop， and numerical simulation were discussed. Finally， the breakthrough directions of the cyclic steps research were given. The combining method of ground penetrating radar， multichannel seismic， drilling and well logging were used to accurately detect the location of field outcrop thalweg. Within the area with water depth greater than 500 meters， the blending of multi-data for the cyclic steps research involved the AUV-based and the ship multi-beams， sub-bottom profiles， and multichannel seismic data. With the in situ samples and observation data obtained by human occupied vehicles， three-dimensional numerical simulation was developed to establish a set of dynamic simulation equations suitable for the real cyclic steps. Therefore， the high resolution three dimensional mode of the deep-water cyclic steps could be obtained more accurately.
Since 1990s， spectral analysis has become an important technique to characterize the properties of chromophoric and fluorescent dissolved organic matter （CDOM and FDOM） from various aquatic systems and a series of spectral indices have been suggested to trace the sources of DOM and their biogeochemical regulation processes. DOM samples were collected from an aquatic continuum from watershed to deep ocean， i.e. Zhangjiang River and Estuary， Dongshan Bay， Taiwan Strait， Northeast basin of the South China Sea， Luzon Strait and the vertical profile of the Kuroshio region of the West Pacific Ocean. This continuum covered many critical interfaces （land-ocean， shelf-basin， marginal sea basin-open ocean and euphotic and aphotic layer）. The spatial distribution and variation of various qualitative and quantitative parameters along the continuum were clearly revealed. Combined with literature review， the sources and sinks of CDOM/FDOM and their inherent regulation processes under significant hydrological and biogeochemical gradient variation were systematically summarized. The geochemical differentiation of the quantitative DOM spectral index in various aquatic systems was discussed. The tracing ability of the qualitative DOM spectral index was commented. The coupling study of soil-river organic matter systems， mechanism of mineralization-related microbial production of CDOM/FDOM， quantified geochemical framework concept and perturbation of global change on CDOM/FDOM dynamics were suggested as future key topics.
The Changjiang， Huanghe， Zhujiang and Heilongjiang are the four largest rivers in China and they transport large amount of fresh water and terrigenous materials， including both inorganic and organic carbon into the ocean. The sources of the terrestrial carbon transported in the four rivers， however， have not been well constrained and compared. In this study， we used carbon isotopes （13C and 14C） combined with concentration measurements to investigate and compare the sources and fluxes of Dissolved Inorganic Carbon （DIC）， Particulate Inorganic Carbon （PIC）， Dissolved Organic Carbon （DOC） and Particulate Organic Carbon （POC） in the four rivers. The contributions of the potential sources to both DIC and DOC were quantitatively calculated using a dual isotope and three end member model. The results showed that the concentrations and isotope characteristics of the carbon pools in the river depended largely on the geological setting， surrounding environment and the anthropogenic influence of the drainage basins. Compared with other large rivers in the world， the concentrations of DIC in the Changjiang， Huanghe and Zhujiang were higher， but the DIC fluxes in the Huanghe and Zhujiang were lower. The DOC concentrations in the Heilongjiang River were higher and lower in the other three rivers compared with the average value of the world largest 25 rivers. The Changjiang， Huanghe and Zhujiang all transport millennia aged carbon. The old riverine DIC reflects the influence of chemical weathering of carbonate rocks and the old DOC reflects influence mainly from pre-aged soil OC. These ancient terrestrial carbon discharged by the rivers could have significant effects on the carbon cycle and ecosystems in the China's marginal seas.
The East Siberian Arctic Shelf （ESAS） is one of the widest and shallowest continental shelves in the world. In the context of the global warming and rapid Arctic changes， the sources， transport and burial of sedimentary Organic Carbon （OC） in this area have experienced significant changes with spatial heterogeneity， which could be related to the sea-ice reduction， permafrost degradation， increased runoff and intensified coastal erosion. The sedimentary OC is mainly contributed by Terrestrial Organic Carbon （TerrOC） in the western East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea， and the coastal erosion increases the flux of Permafrost Carbon （PF/C） with a positive climate feedback effect. The Chukchi Sea has high organic carbon burial efficiency， where the seasonal variation of sea ice has direct effect on the source and sink of OC. Under the influence of hydrodynamic sorting， the cross-shelf transport times of TerrOC from the Lena estuary to the shelf edge requires approximately 3 000～4 000 years， by coupling with a significant geochemical differentiation and degradation. There existed spatio-temporal variation for the OC burial on the ESAS， and the large amount and rapid deposition of highly-reactive PF/C from the land to the sea could have important significance for the Arctic soil carbon， the OC mineralization in the aquatic environment， and CO2 outgassing. The following research should strengthen the application of the comprehensive geochemical indices and the compound-specific isotope method， emphasizing the relation between the sea-ice and the sources and sink of the OC. By coupling with the models of regional carbon cycle， we should emphasize the integration of the modern process and geological records， proxy records with the numerical simulation， which is necessary to better understand the sources and sink of sedimentary OC and the climate and environmental effect from the varied timescales.
The formation process of marine authigenic pyrite （FeS2） is closely related to the organic mineralization process， representing an important part of the global C-S-Fe biogeochemical cycle. Since the Holocene highstand of sea level， the shelves of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea have developed mud deposits extensively， in which a large number of authigenic pyrites are present， which provides an opportunity to study their genesis and controlling factors. In terms of spatial distribution， the distribution of pyrite is accompanied by fine-grained mud sediments， because fine-grained sediments are relatively rich in organic matter， and the relatively stable depositional environment is conducive to the progress of microbial sulfate reduction. The differences in sedimentary dynamics， organic matter sources and marine productivity in the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea lead to differences in the formation and burial of pyrite， which in turn cause differences in related indicators （such as the C/S ratio）. In the vertical direction， the content of pyrite generally increases with the increase of depth， indicating that as the depth of burial increases， the dissolved oxygen in the pore water is depleted， which is beneficial to the sulfate reduction； the sulfur isotope of pyrite becomes isotopically heavy with the depth （enrichment of 34S）， which may be related to the openness of the diagenetic system， or the sulfate reduction driven by anaerobic oxidation of methane. In addition， the sedimentation rate controls the content and isotopic composition of pyrite via affecting the burial of organic matter， the efficiency of communication between pore water and seawater， and the location of the sulfate- methane transition zone. The mud areas of the shelves of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea have accumulated a large number of excellent research results in sedimentary dynamics and sedimentary processes. On this basis， combined with advanced analyzing methods such as multi-sulfur isotopes， in-situ elemental on single pyrite crystal， the potential value of pyrite could be excavated to deal with major scientific issues such as the modern ocean C-S-Fe cycle and deep-time ocean chemical evolution.