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The geosciences aim to elucidate the basic mechanisms of all phenomena occurring in the earth's interior, on its surface, in the oceans, and in the atmosphere, giving them important implications for human life and society.
In the field of solid-state geophysics, new theories to explain the earth's inner structures are emerging from research based on the global spread of seismic monitoring using high-performance, wide-based seismometers; super-highpressure, high-temperature experiments on earth substances; and numeric simulations where conditions make experimentation impossible.
As one of the world's most seismically active and volcanic countries, Japan has, under its Earthquake and Volcanic Eruption Prediction Plans, conducted a wide variety of geophysical observations, including high-sensitivity microearthquake monitoring and the observation of artificial earthquakes. This work has yielded important benefits. including improved understanding of seismic activity and the mechanisms that produce It and of the mechanisms of volcanic eruptions and the detection of precursors. Considerable progress has also been made in understanding the structure of the Japanese archipelago and surrounding areas. An important goal in relation to earthquake prediction will be the development of models that encompass the overall process of earthquake generation from the perspective of imbalances, distortions, and stresses within the earth's crust. This will require a comprehensive approach based on close cooperation between universities and other institutions involved in this field. In the case of volcanic eruption prediction, it will be necessary to carry out basic research into such aspects as the process by which magma rises and erupts and to explain the dynamic structures of volcanoes over time.
Research in marine physics and oceanography has brought us closer to understanding the El Nino phenomenon (rise in seawater temperatures in tropical areas of the eastern Pacific) as part of an oceanic cycle encompassing the entire Pacific. A key task for the future will be the elucidation of large oceanic cycles. This is also essential to understanding the mechanisms of climate change, which will in turn contribute to the solution of the increasingly serious problems affecting the marine environment, including pollution of the oceans. Awareness of the importance of these issues Is reflected in efforts to promote international cooperation and joint projects.
In the area of meteorology, research is focusing on the use of climate models to explain the mechanisms of climate change. Today's models, which integrate atmospheric, land, and oceanic cycles, are being used not only to predict climate change, but also to study climate change in geological eras and cycles of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere. In the future, interdisciplinary cooperation with fields like marine physics, hydrology, chemistry, and ecology is expected to improve our understanding of climate change and the accuracy of localized forecasting. Satellite monitoring provides a constant flow of quantitative data, and there have also been major advances in analysis methods and climate model simulation. This knowledge is expected to provide a more accurate understanding of the mechanisms' of climate change.
Efforts to overcome global problems have been an important focus for geoscience research in recent years. This will require the integration of a wide spectrum of disciplines, from the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences, into the new field of global environmental science, the goal of which will be to find solutions based on an understanding of the real nature of global environmental problems.
The development of scientific satellites, products of space engineering, has brought dramatic advances in space science. Contributions to this progress have also come from improvements in computer performance that have enabled researchers to process huge volumes of observation data effectively and to carry out sophisticated numerical simulations. Japan is systematically launching scientific satellites at the rate of one per year. These have brought dramatic improvements in the level of Japanese research, which is now regarded as the most advanced in the world, especially in X-ray astronomy, solar physics, and magnetosphere physics.
In addition to these fields, major progress is also anticipated in the areas of infrared astronomy and solar system science. Japan also plans to build a large-scale cosmic radio wave interferometer, which will be used for integrated monitoring of radio waves from astronomical bodies via multiple antennas. Future research is likely to Include the interior of the moon, the atmosphere of Mars, the interiors of Mercury and Mars, and the exploration of comets. The development of exploratory and monitoring equipment will become increasingly important in this context.
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