Agriculture & Food systems
Agriculture and forestry provide food and non-food products to meet the demands of a wide range of industries and consumers, under a variety of geographical and socio-economic conditions. They also provide social and environmental benefits and play an important role in the developing rural areas, improving quality of life, and creating jobs. Agricultural production should provide food and nutrient security and at the same time, be resilient against the challenges of finite resources, environmental degradation, climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
These would require locally adapted solutions that both improve the economic viability and social conditions of farming, enable generational renewal and contribute to the development, resilience and attractiveness of rural areas. Research and innovation is critically important to develop and upscale knowledge, practices, technological and social innovations, policies and governance that will enable transitions towards sustainable farming systems and rural communities.
Biodiversity and Ecosystems, Conservation & Restoration
Framing nature as ‘natural capital’ is a way of looking at the environment from an economic perspective, with living and non-living elements of the environment seen as an ‘asset’ from which numerous benefits flow in the form of ecosystem services. Recognizing these benefits allows values, sometimes monetary, to be associated with them. This approach can be useful for influencing decisions driven largely by economic thinking (as most decisions in business and government are) as it allows some of the values of nature to be represented in equivalent terms.
However, one of the challenges in farming nature concept is the incorporation of biodiversity. Biodiversity – the diversity of all living organisms at genetic, species and ecosystem level – forms the living component of natural capital. It is the interactions between biodiversity and non-living natural resources that generate most of the flows that benefit society. Some of these benefits can be measured and valued, but many remain hidden or missing.
The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.
The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report).
Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about the planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.
Water Resources & Management
Hydrology is the science that encompasses the study of water on the surface and beneath the surface of the Earth, the occurrence and movement of water, the physical and chemical properties of water, and its relationship with the living and material components of the environment.
Groundwater constitutes the largest reservoir of freshwater in the world, accounting for over 97% of all freshwaters available on Earth (excluding glaciers and ice caps). The remaining 3% is composes mainly of surface water (lakes, rivers, wetlands) and soil moisture. Both groundwater and surface water are important components of the hydrological cycle and play a relevant role on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Hence, management practices affecting their availability and quality will have implications for ecosystems and human wellbeing.
Atmospheric Composition and Aerosol Dynamics
NEO atmospheric research is undertaken by researchers from the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens (BRFAA), the Department of Environmental Science of Stockholm University (ACES) and the Institute for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development of the National Observatory of Athens (IERSD). The long-term monitoring of aerosol physical, chemical and optical properties, atmospheric trace gases, different solar radiation components as well as meteorological parameters, is the main focus of the atmospheric research activities conducted at NEO.
The observations aim at shedding light on the factors that control the levels and variability of the species above as well as to discriminate the relevant contribution from long range transport versus local sources. NEO, as part of PANACEA, serves as one of the 3 sites selected in Greece to concentrate national and international efforts in the study of atmospheric composition and its relevance to climate change. PANACEA, standing for “PanHellenic infrastructure for Atmospheric Composition and climate change (PANACEA)”, was launched in September 2018. PANACEA is part of the Hellenic Research Infrastructures (RI). The RI is actively linked with both ACTRIS/ESFRI and ICOS/ERIC, the relevant European Infrastructures that target aerosol, clouds, trace gases and the carbon observation, and aims at developing a coordinated system for monitoring of atmospheric composition, solar radiation variations, climate change and related natural hazards, merging all existing facilities and upgrading its infrastructure.
Past Climate Variability & Geomorphological Evolution
The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization.
In order to better understand climate change and its effects on the environment we need to learn more about patterns and processes behind natural climate variability. A better understanding of how past local cultures responded to changes in regional climate might also tell us something about potentially suitable societal strategies for the future.
Society & Sustainable Development
World population has been growing exponentially and is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. This implies and increasing demand for food, clean water, energy and biofuels, and an increasing pressure on the natural resources. The ability of natural systems to provide goods and services on which the society and economy depend on have been compromised over the last decades, and is reaching critical limits in some regions such as the Mediterranean. Sustainable development allows society to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of natural systems. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goas were established by the United Nations and should nurture societal actions.
Human-induced Interventions: Impacts and Responses
Human activities have important impacts on soil, water and air quality, and are often associated with impairments on their quality status. Degradation of natural resources may assume different forms and lead to several environmental, social and economic problems. Pollution, for example, is a global problem with very pervasive impacts on society. Understanding the impacts of human-induced processes on the biophysical environment and the ability of ecosystems to provide goods and services is of utmost importance to mitigate and reverse degradation. To raise awareness on the need to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide, the United Nations declared 2021-2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.