Understanding how complex biological and environmental systems will respond to and affect critical Earth system processes requires measuring, simulating, and integrating biological, chemical, and physical components and their interactions across vast spatial and temporal scales—from subnanometers to kilometers and nanoseconds to millennia. Shown here is the example of moving from an initial view of molecules inside a cell, to cellular components, whole cells, the cells of a tissue interacting with adjacent cells, the tissue as part of an organism (e.g., a tree), the organism within a geographical region of a continent, and finally to a view of the whole Earth. As computational models become refined and increasingly precise at each scale, the question of how a model can interact meaningfully with those at adjacent scales will present opportunities to gain a deeper system understanding.
Credit or Source: Image from p. 46 of the Grand Challenges for Biological and Environmental Research: A Long-Term Vision report.
BERAC. 2013. BER Virtual Laboratory: Innovative Framework for Biological and Environmental Grand Challenges; A Report from the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee, DOE/SC-0156. science.energy.gov/ber/berac/reports/. (p. 2) (PDF)