The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is an international non-profit scientific association with 60,000 members in 137 countries.
AGU was established in 1919 by the National Research Council, and for more than 50 years, we operated as an unincorporated affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences. AGU was independently incorporated in 1972.
From its beginning in 1919 as the union of two Committees, the American National Committee of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics and the Committee on Geophysics of the National Research Council, AGU has grown to be the preeminent international force for the promotion of geophysical endeavors. Even in the early days of small-scale geophysics, from 1919 to 1948, the annual meetings of AGU provided the chief meeting place for the world’s geophysicists. Since then, the spheres of geophysical investigation have vastly expanded, and new technologies have enabled us to make significant advances in our understanding of Earth and of space beyond: satellites, high-speed computers, and advanced imaging devices have made discovery and analysis easier than ever before.
Unlike some other scientific fields that are far removed from the life of most people, those of AGU members treat processes that influence everyone every day: rainfall rates, trends in marine fisheries, earthquake probabilities, volcanic eruption potentials. We embrace not only the joys of science, but the appreciation of the wondrous mechanisms that make our planet function.
Soon after AGU’s 80th, anniversary, the world will enter a new millennium, with the prospect of a large increase in the human population and the certainty that human activities have already influenced some of the planetary systems on which all life depends. As Earth’s peoples strive for sustainable development, a key consideration will be better understanding of the resilience of Earth systems to the anthropogenic stresses placed upon them. AGU members will be the lead players in the activity, as the natural variances of planetary systems become increasingly well understood, linkages appreciated, and perturbations clearly identified. In this central role, even more than historically the implications of geophysical research will be vital in informing public policy decisions. Our scientific research must, of course, continue to be excellent. In addition, we must strive for excellence in communicating the results of that research to policy makers and to the public at large.
There have been successes and failures, controversies and consensus, but, as we look back over 80 years of accomplishments, one thing is certain: the role that AGU and its members can play will only increase in importance.