We strive to increase the success of existing programs at Tsinghua by playing a central role at the university as an integrator of the physical and social sciences, the engineering and management toward a more comprehensive and systematic study of the Earth sciences to better meet the challenges of global environmental change and sustainable development.

In the history of Tsinghua, there was a period of prosperous development of earth sciences between 1929 and 1952. In 1952, the geography, meteorology and geology programs at Tsinghua were merged to programs in other universities when Tsinghua was assigned as one of China’s prominent universities for engineering and technology education. During that 24 year period, Tsinghua graduated over 200 undergraduate students and about one quarter of them became members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. These distinguished alumni of the earth science programs at Tsinghua are important social resources for the re-establishment of earth sciences in the university.

To achieve the overall goal of building a world-class comprehensive research university, Tsinghua University has recently decided to re-establish its earth science programs by initially developing the earth system science discipline with a focus on global change issues. Therefore, a new research college on global change studies will be first created. The College for Global Change Studies will initially concentrate on four broad academic fields:
1. Earth system science
2. Earth system modeling
3. Earth observation technology
4. Global change economics

Earth system science is the study of the Earth system, with an emphasis on observing, understanding and predicting global environmental changes involving interactions between land, atmosphere, water, ice, biosphere, societies, technologies and economies. Global environmental change includes changes in the physical and biogeochemical environment, either caused by natural or influenced by human activities such as deforestation, fossil fuel consumption, urbanization, land reclamation, agricultural intensification, freshwater extraction, fisheries over-exploitation and waste production (Leemans et al., 2009).

Earth system modeling is the study of integrated modeling of the coupled earth system components – atmosphere, ocean, pedosphere, biosphere, ice and freshwater, that are traditionally modeled in isolation. The human socio-economic components are also included in this coupled modeling framework. Particularly, accurate modeling of the global and regional climate system is highly desirable in order for human society to develop better adaptation policies under the present global warming trend. Earth system modeling is the science to understand how feedbacks between those Earth components may ultimately influence the properties of the whole system. Its direct disciplinary basis is earth system science rooted in the cross-disciplinary intersections of physical and social, computational and environmental fields. The immediate outlet of earth system modeling is earth system simulation tools supported by high performance computing and earth observation technology.

Earth observation technology is an interdisciplinary field that highly integrates earth sciences, computer engineering, sensor technologies, tele-communication, marine-air-space sciences, and field survey technologies into systems that can measure and monitor the physical, chemical and biological conditions at the local, regional and global scales in the earth system. It includes ground based weather, hydrological, seismic, environmental and ecological observation networks, ocean observation stations and airborne and satellite-borne observation networks. The current trend is toward an globally integrated system of earth observation networks that can support near-real-time data acquisition, internet-based data sharing, highly-visualisable data exploration and analysis. These are enabled by recent advances in wireless sensor net, internet-based database and geospatial information technologies.

Global change economics is an interdisciplinary field that integrates economics, energy, environment, policy and politics to study the interaction of global change and economic development, such as global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity, deforestation and forest degradation, land-use change, desertification, loss of wetland and hazardous waste management. Specifically, it involves economics, policies and social responses to global environmental problems, particularly climate change; integrated economic and social impact assessment of global environmental change on the economy; technological and economic appraisal of climate mitigation and adaptation measures; effects of climate change on agriculture, forestry, bio-fuel and ecosystems and interactions with urban air pollution and associated health effects; and integrated economic, environmental, and real-time policy analysis on national environmental policies and international climate agreement .

More specific disciplines are being determined based on the following prioritizing criteria:
1. building on Tsinghua’s strength;
2. choosing strategically important subject areas that are actively advancing along the scientific frontier;
3. emphasizing on cross-disciplinary intersections; and
4. meeting the urgent societal needs,
5. The initial subjects chosen include atmospheric chemistry, biogeochemistry, biogeophysics and geophysics, climate dynamics, ecosystem science, environmental economics (Xu et al., 2010), land change science (Turner et al., 2007), oceanography, earth system simulation, earth observation technology and geographic information technology.