With Will Steffen, Earth system science has lost its father
Centre director Line Gordon and chair of the board Carl Folke look back on their time with cherished colleague Will Steffen, who recently passed away
Will Steffen, a pioneering scientist and visionary human being, has passed away. With the loss of Will Steffen, it feels like the biosphere has lost some of its resilience.
Will leaves behind a legacy of exceptional research that has greatly impacted our understanding of the Anthropocene and the role of humanity within it. His ground-breaking work, which includes the great acceleration of the Anthropocene, the safe operating space for humanity, planetary stewardship, and the risk of a hothouse earth, has set the foundation for much of the work we do at the centre, and his research has already inspired several generations of centre scholars.
Will was not just a brilliant scientist but also a true diplomat of the scientific community, bridging gaps and fostering new partnerships among scholars from diverse disciplines. He was a kind and compassionate person who took the time to listen and share his insights and wisdom with all those he interacted with, regardless of their background or status.
Will has collaborated with several of us at the centre since the 1990s when he worked at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in Stockholm and is the father of Earth system science. His book ‘Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet under Pressure’, published in 2004, is a milestone.
Will's work will have a lasting imprint, and especially his humble personality, pleasant way of being, and great friendship will remain deeply in our hearts.
Meetings with Will were always invigorating, as he never lost sight of the big picture. He was extremely sharp and managed to capture complex aspects of Earth system behaviour into clear insights.
He loved the outdoors; you often heard him chatting with colleagues about the best rock-climbing routes, and saw him carrying his ice-skates around the corridors of the centre. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him, but his impact on the world will endure. We are many inspired by him, and we have a great responsibility to continue his important efforts to ensure a resilient biosphere where humanity can thrive.
News & events
Research news | 2024-02-20
Having good neighbours and few top predators make predatory fish populations more resilient
A regime shift is gradually spreading through the archipelagos of the Swedish Baltic Sea coast, where shallow bays, previously dominated by pike and perch have one by one become dominated by one of their prey species, the three-spined stickleback.
Research news | 2024-02-08
Eating new plant-based foods can be good for the environment, your health and your economy
Replacing animal-source foods with plant-based alternatives or whole foods decreases environmental impact, meets nutrition recommendations, and can be cost-competitive with the current average Swedish diet
Research news | 2024-01-29
Bird AI and sailing drones – green game changers for marine ecosystems
Groups of guillemots on an island in the Baltic Sea have unknowingly inspired how marine research can be done. Two AI-powered research projects can change how to monitor marine ecosystems – and potentially manage them in real-time
Research news | 2024-01-24
Centralised social networks can hinder innovation by making decision-making too similar
Social systems where influence is centred around one or two individuals can lead to pack mentality and groupthink in farming communities
Research news | 2024-01-23
Planetary Commons: Fostering global cooperation to safeguard critical Earth system functions
We should look at tipping elements of the Earth system as global commons, argue researchers in a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Research news | 2024-01-22
Soy: A world journey from success to uncertainty
From a bean valued for its multitude of functions in ancient China to one of the most traded agricultural commodities of the modern world: the soybean has gone through dramatic changes throughout the millennia.