Quantifying & Understanding the Earth System (QUEST)

Programme overview

The Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System (QUEST) programme assimilated scientists' knowledge of the Earth as an integrated system. Its aim was to substantially improve predictions of global environmental change.

Background & objectives

Human activities are altering the atmosphere and oceans, transforming ecosystems, and changing the climate over and above natural variation. To predict how the complex interactions and feedbacks between different components of the Earth System will respond to our growing influence, we need to consider them together.

The programme had three main themes:

  1. The contemporary carbon cycle and its interactions with climate and atmospheric chemistry.
  2. The natural regulation of atmospheric composition on glacial-interglacial and longer time scales.
  3. The implications of global environmental changes for the sustainable use of resources.

QUEST helped to accelerate development of the next generation of environmental-change models, and provided a focal point for UK work, forging collaborations and synergies between worldwide experts in Earth System research and modelling.

Reports & key findings

The following case studies are linked to this research programme.

The 4 degree map - taking climate change science to Copenhagen and over 10 million people worldwide (PDF, 80KB)
Synopsis: Science from NERC's QUEST programme underpinned the '4 degree map' campaign tool that reached over 10 million people in the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations.

QUEST forestry research influences international climate negotiations (PDF, 78KB)
Synopsis: Research into the carbon sources and sinks in forests in developed countries has helped UK negotiating teams in international climate talks, including the Cancun negotiations of 2010.

UK upland peat: advice on mitigating climate-related loss and safeguarding 'ecosystem services' (PDF, 70KB)
Synopsis: Half the UK's upland peatlands will be vulnerable to climate change by 2050. QUEST was part of a partnership summarising available knowledge and producing an 'implications for policy' brief that Defra used in its UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.

NERC scientists contribute to Global Carbon Budget calculations 2008 and 2009 (PDF, 70KB)
Synopsis: Scientists from across NERC programmes and centres led, and contributed to, the Global Carbon Budgets for 2008 and 2009, published in Nature Geoscience to wide media and policymaker attention.

QUEST contributions to the United Nations' 2009 Copenhagen Climate Negotiations (PDF, 83KB)
Synopsis: QUEST scientists answered questions from government and the media before the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Negotiations, influencing negotiations and public opinion.

Climate and human influence on wildfires (PDF, 77KB) (PDF, 77KB)
Synopsis: Climate influences wildfires, but humans have also affected their frequency, reducing their number over many centuries. However, as the climate becomes warmer, their number, and severity, is likely to increase.

Climate-carbon cycle feedbacks affect greenhouse gas policies globally (PDF, 72KB)
Synopsis: Quantifying the feedbacks between climate and carbon emissions, and forging a better understanding of the processes affecting CO2 absorption and emissions from land and oceans, has led to a call for long-term global carbon emissions cuts.