1 Introduction

Landscape data is crucial to the effectiveness of science and policy on sustainability. Mass data production and anthropogenic pressure on landscapes present a challenge and an opportunity for sustainability. On the one hand, anthropogenic pressures constitute threats to biophysical thresholds, called planetary boundaries (Rockström et al., 2009aJump To The Next Citation Point). The nine boundaries include climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, global freshwater use, land use changes, biodiversity loss, aerosol loading in the atmosphere and chemical pollution. Crossing most of the planetary boundaries could be a direct consequence of the overuse of landscapes. Many scientists hypothesise that enormous pressure on landscapes is pushing Earth into the Anthropocene – a new geological age (Lövbrand et al., 2009Jump To The Next Citation Point; Zalasiewicz et al., 2011Jump To The Next Citation Point). On the other hand, planet Earth is witnessing the explosion of various forms of data. In the year 2010 alone, 1200 exabytes (or billion gigabytes) worth of data were created (The Economist, 2010). The Research Data Strategy Working Group (2011) suggests that all types of digital information could be considered research data, provided that researchers use them as a primary source. Types of data include: 1) raw data, which is an unprocessed observation of an event; 2) processed data, which is calibrated or corrected raw data; 3) derived data, which is extracted from raw data based on a particular need; 4) textual data, which emanates from research projects’ textual data – bibliographies, texts, surveys, etc. The Fourth Paradigm or Data Intensive science entails using scientific data, also referred to as “big data” or “data deluge”, for the analysis, visualisation, exploration, communication and dissemination of research output (Hey, 2011). This paradigm is potentially beneficial for landscape sustainability. The post-industrial information age facilitates the understanding of complex socio-ecological crises (Naveh, 2007Jump To The Next Citation Point).

Landscape science as a meta-discipline is an overarching subject comprising many disciplines that explain the biophysical and socio-cultural nature of the Earth (Antrop, 2000a,b). As such, it passes through several paradigm shifts. Recently, global science and the policy community has identified with the paradigm of planetary boundaries. This paradigm incorporates arguments put forward by advocates of the Anthropocene epoch. However, there is a need to explore the most critical driving forces, and how they affect landscapes. One of the strengths of landscape research is its openness to interdisciplinarity (Tress et al., 2006; Cosgrove, 2004). Only disciplines with a strong inclination for interdisciplinarity can play a significant role in resolving the massive human impact on the planet. On that premise, it is worth exploring the connection between landscapes, big data and the Anthropocene. Landscape researchers develop or borrow techniques to analyse various landscape issues (Uuemaa et al., 2009Jump To The Next Citation Point). Despite this established culture, the challenges that landscape research addresses keep changing dimensions. It is normal for sciences to shift grounds during crises (Kuhn, 1970), the real crisis at present being the massive pressure placed on planet Earth.

This article aims to link the concepts of the Anthropocene, Fourth Paradigm and landscape sustainability in the 21st century. The specific objectives are:

  • To position landscape sustainability in the context of the Anthropocene and Fourth Paradigm
  • To identify the bolder driving forces for landscape change within the Anthropocene debate
  • To highlight the role of landscape science in addressing the dynamics of global landscape and sustainability crises

Academic publications, conferences, seminars and research groups offer many perspectives on the landscape sustainability and the Anthropocene debate. It is important to explain the state of landscape research in the context of the Anthropocene and the Fourth Paradigm. We took a retrospective and prospective look at the dimensions of the research themes from a multidisciplinary perspective. This review focused on three keywords – the Anthropocene, the Fourth Paradigm and Landscape. We searched for these keywords in peer-reviewed publications archived in Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge, Elsevier’s Scopus and Google Scholar. Other auxiliary sources of information from other academic websites were also used. Relevant textbooks were also included as reading material for this review.

This review comprises seven sections, starting with an introduction that outlines the research background. It includes the aim and objectives, the research need and its conceptual and theoretical underpinnings. The introductory Section 1 also highlights the review methods. Section 2 discusses the Anthropocene and its link with landscape. Section 3 explains why urbanisation and globalisation should be key players in the ongoing debates on Anthropocene. The Sections 4 and 5 provide insights into the state of research on landscape, Anthropocene and the Fourth Paradigm. Section 6 presents the arguments of this paper and its limitations, as well as areas for further study. Section 7 summarises further action for landscape scientists and researchers. Figure 1View Image shows the connections to subjects explored in this review.

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Figure 1: A conceptual framework of the interrelationship between the research key themes.

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