Exploring potential tipping points and transition states of Earth and human systems at regional to sub-regional scales
The damage, disruptions and casualties resulting from recent climate-related events of extreme heat, wildfires, flooding and drought are among the disasters that highlight the need to make our infrastructure more resilient. Extreme events become disasters when they push any natural or managed system beyond its capacity to sustain the impact of the event, suggesting a tipping point at which that system loses its resiliency. By identifying important precursory indicators of such tipping points, however, we could vastly reduce the risk of extreme events turning into disasters.
To that end, we have developed a multi-system, multi-sector modeling framework that includes land use, water supply and use, energy resources, multi-scale socioeconomics and Earth systems. We use this framework to explore potential tipping points and transition states for regional to sub-regional scales, the dynamics and potential new states that may emerge, and the driving forces contributing most significantly at the appropriate scales.
The goal of our work on multi-sector dynamics is to understand how the convergence of human and natural systems, and their interactions, both influence and are influenced by multi-scale socioeconomics as well as the health of the planet’s ecosystems and inhabitants. We are investigating the scope, specificity, model forms, details and data requirements for meaningful understanding of dynamics spanning scales.
In this research focus area, we seek to examine the following major science questions:
- Forces and Patterns. What combination of factors, varying by geography, contribute to salient patterns of economic and infrastructure development in trans-regional, regional, and sub-regional evolutions, including interactions and interdependencies among natural and built environments and human processes and systems?
- Stabilities and Instabilities. What characteristics of interacting natural and built environments and human processes lead to stabilities, instabilities and tipping points in economic and infrastructure development across systems, sectors and scales, and what role do strong interdependencies, feedbacks, influences and stressors play?
- Foresight. How might long-term economic and infrastructure development patterns, stabilities, instabilities and systems resilience evolve within multi-sector, multi-scale landscapes as a result of future forces, stressors and disturbances (natural and as a result of human activity), and what pathways, characteristics and risk profiles may emerge from both gradual and abrupt transitions?
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