We live in a time of rapid, human-driven change, in which humanity's impact on Earth systems is unparalleled. Growing population stress combined with progressive degradation of environmental systems and declining resource abundance are now rapidly changing the Earth. Until recently, most human impacts were on terrestrial systems, but increasing populations along coastlines worldwide, as well as construction and extractive technologies, are now rapidly changing marine environments. Coupled with progressive increases in temperature and changes in atmospheric composition and particle loading, every facet of the global system is in a state of transition. These complexities highlight the fundamental difficulty in achieving sustainable solutions. With earth systems in transition, any point where sustainability might be realized through interventive action must be expected to shift to some new unknown. This situation-in-flux requires adaptive dynamic approaches characteristic of integrative systems science.

The Global Systems Science Destination Area is focused on critical problems that cross the nexus of natural and human systems. Nine critical problems have been identified in which Virginia Tech is already positioned with significant expertise and visibility both nationally and internationally: sea level rise and the land-sea interface, progressive soil degradation, pressure on forest ecosystems and watersheds, demands for raw materials, abundance and quality of fresh water, defaunation and biosphere integrity, supply and integrity of food, degradation of ozone and aerosol loading, and transmission of infectious disease. In addressing these critical problems, GSS integrates three overarching areas of inquiry:

- Biogeophysical Sciences: Combining knowledge from microbial communities to the highest trophic levels, across continental, oceanic, and atmospheric environments. This component is governed by the basic principles of physics, chemistry, and geoscience.

- The Sociocultural Realm: Encompassing not only the social and health sciences but also consideration of human expression and experience through the humanities and the arts. Full integration of sociocultural approaches into global systems science is a paradigm-shifting approach to critical problems.

- Technology and tools: Advanced modeling capabilities, high-performance computing, and advanced computing resources, including sensors, that may be used to develop state-of-the-art predictive/forecasting models for global government.

With respect to curricular innovations, GSS will prepare students to live in an increasingly diverse society by emphasizing relationships between the ensemble and the individual, global complexity and local context, and technological capacity and human aspirations. The overriding conceptual framework of the curriculum is systems thinking, an approach that embraces complexity, crosses disciplinary boundaries, and encourages nimble and innovative approaches to intractable problems.

Stakeholder Committee

Ozzie Abaye (CALS)
Mark Barrow (CLAHS)
Cyril Clarke (CVM)
Dennis Dean (CALS)
Patricia Dove (COS)
Stephen Eubank (BI)
Alan Grant (CALS)
Ralph Hall (CAUS)
William Hopkins (CNRE)
John Little (COE)
Sarah McDonald (VTCRI)
John McDowell (CALS)
X.J. Meng (CVM)
Amy Pruden-Bagchi (COE)
Wayne Scales (COE)
Stephen Schoenholtz (VWRRC)
Jake Tu (CALS)
Jeff Walters (COS)
Paul Winistorfer (CNRE)


Program Manager:
Janet Webster jbwebste@vt.edu

Administrative Support:
Deborah Hairston debbie1@vt.edu

Last updated: February 9, 2017

Other Destination Areas

Virginia Tech has five original Destination Areas. You can read about each by clicking the buttons below.

Strategic Growth Areas