Climate change, global change: What is the difference?



The recent surge in committee activities, national and international, to define and promote a program of research in global change has left many of our colleagues wondering how this new program is going to be different from the World Climate Research Program (WCRP), which has the charge to study the problem of climate change. In fact, although the programs overlap, the difference between the two is both substantial and substantive.

Substantial, because the scope of the program to study global change is much broader; a very large number of scientific disciplines will be involved. The program will need support from an even larger number of programming agencies from around the world. Substantive, because the program will address research that is not emphasized in the WCRP:

  • studies of chemical compounds other than water as they cycle through the atmosphere, land, and oceans
  • measurements and modeling of the eutrophic zone in upper layers of the oceans, where rates of photosynthesis and transport regulate the exchange of gases between the atmosphere and deep oceans
  • documenting variability of the global vegetation cover and of soil chemistry and studying their impacts on the concentration of atmospheric gases
  • the study of how changes in regional climate affect the state of vegetation for periods of a few decades.