Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling
Read this message from Gary Geernaert, director of the Climate and Environmental Sciences Division within the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. Read more

MultiSector Dynamics

MultiSector Dynamics seeks to advance scientific understanding of the complex interactions, interdependencies, and co-evolutionary pathways of human and natural systems, including interdependencies among sectors and infrastructures. This includes advancing relevant socio-economic, risk analysis, and complex decision theory methods to lead insights into earth system science, while emphasizing the development of interoperable data, modeling, and analysis tools for integration within flexible modeling frameworks.

This program area's efforts inform some of the most significant energy, economic, and infrastructure decisions affecting the world today.

Program Area Description

The human-earth system—including settlements, infrastructure, natural resources, socio-economics, and interdependent sectors and natural systems—is highly complex and continuously changing, with stressors, constraints, and other factors that affect change taking many forms and influencing the system at varying spatial and temporal scales, often in unanticipated ways.

Scientific insights and tools emerging from MultiSector Dynamics hold significant potential to inform next-generation U.S. infrastructure and new development pathways for improved energy and economic security, including implications of and for technological and systems innovations.

Topical areas of focus in MultiSector Dynamics include:

  • Multi-model, multi-scale frameworks, software couplers, and component emulators
  • Interdependencies among energy, water, and land systems and the natural environment
  • Infrastructure, sectoral interactions, and resilience under rapid change
  • Urban morphologies, population dynamics, and landscape evolution
  • Simulation complexity in energy-intensive, multisector regions under stress (e.g., coasts)
  • Influences of extreme events and compounding stressors on system shocks and responses
  • Scenarios, sensitivity studies, uncertainty characterization, and interpretation of results
  • Data science, analytics, fusion methods, and machine learning

Research Emphasis

There is a particular emphasis on understanding the energy-water-land nexus under both realistic and idealized forcing scenarios, including the evaluation of scale-aware processes and probabilistic uncertainties that can lead to instability through thresholds and tipping points.

IAR Workshop Report
Latest sponsored workshop report, centered on an interagency activity involving multi-disciplinary science community input, addresses: Understanding Dynamics and Resilience in Complex Interdependent Systems – Prospects for a Multi-Model Framework and Community of Practice.

This major focus area seeks to understand the growing interdependencies and risks at the intersection of the energy, water, and land sectors. The recent disruptive effects and economic losses associated with the growing intensity, frequency, and persistence of droughts, floods, heat waves, and tropical storms in the United States have highlighted the importance of this research and integrated modeling capability. For example, energy is required for water and wastewater treatment, groundwater pumping, and large-scale inter-basin transfers. Needs, risks, and vulnerabilities of the coupled system are large and growing in the face of shifting weather and precipitation patterns, water supplies that depend on increasingly limited groundwater, transitions in regional economic development (including land use), as well as U.S. population shifts. In contrast, approximately 45% of water withdrawals in America’s rivers and streams are for energy applications, ranging from thermo-electric cooling (e.g., fossil and nuclear power plants) to domestic oil and gas recovery. Hydropower is similarly challenged to respond to increasing competition for limited water supply.

Besides the focus to understand the system dynamics governing interdependencies within the natural-human system, this area seeks to advance scientists' understanding of system nonlinearity and instability associated with multiple stressors that can lead to cascading failures in connected sectors and systems. An important characteristic of nonlinearity and system failure is the probabilistic interdependence near thresholds associated with extreme weather, severe drought, and infrastructure vulnerability. Consequently, MultiSector Dynamics supports the development of interoperable tools and methods for integration with agile, flexible earth system modeling frameworks, revealing a basic understanding of different levels of complexity required to analyze interdependency. 

Funding Opportunity Announcements

Announcements are posted on the DOE Office of Science Grants and Contracts Website and at grants.gov. Information about preparing and submitting applications, as well as the DOE Office of Science merit review process, is available at the DOE Office of Science Grants and Contracts Website. For current announcements visit BER Funding Opportunities.

Why MultiSector Dynamics' Research is Important

MultiSector Dynamics efforts are necessary to understand the nonlinear science involving natural-human interdependency and feedbacks on the earth system. This program area helps shape fundamental understanding of complex stressors on human systems and infrastructure, vulnerabilities and risks at the energy-water-land nexus, multisector dynamics, and more generally, implications for regional and global economic development in the face of changing weather patterns and extremes, advances in technology, availability of natural resources, and feedbacks to natural systems, including regional and global climates.  

Featured Reports

Recent Content

Recent Highlights

Water scarcity poses a significant threat to global food supplies. To determine how the agriculture sector might respond to this threat, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory embedded groundwater availability and cost estimates by region into a...
Electrification of buildings, transportation, and industry is expected to grow rapidly over the coming decades. Planning for long-lived investments in electric capacity requires a multi-decadal analysis. However, this long-term planning requires consideration of the sub-annual dynamics of operating...
With projected expansion of biofuel production at a global scale, accurately representing biofuel crops in land surface models can help estimate potential impacts of land use changes. Using observations from biofuel plants in the Midwestern United States, a team of researchers at the Pacific...
The research examines how model selection impacts projections for a particular decision-relevant metric – chill hours. The paper highlights the similarities and differences in results based on whether models are chosen for skill in broad-scale physical climatic metrics (such as average or minimum...
This paper examines both the process of, and outcomes from, a case of “co-production” (Project Hyperion), wherein scientists and water managers jointly developed decision-relevant climatic metrics that are useful for water management and for evaluation of climate model fidelity. The paper opens up...
Major water systems in the U.S. play a fundamental role in bulk power system operations, management, and reliability through hydropower operations and the cooling of thermoelectric plants. However, water’s overall contribution to the resilient electricity system design is unclear. A team of...
Energy, water, land, climate, and economic systems are intricately linked: changes in one system affect the others. Researchers use models to estimate consequences of changes in the human-Earth system, such as changes in electricity demand due to changes in weather. A new version of the Global...
High-resolution simulations are conducted with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model in order to quantify downstream effects on near-surface climate and the differences in climate effects that arise from two different parameterizations in WRF (Fitch and the newly developed EWP scheme)....
California has a Mediterranean-type climate with temperate wet winter and warm dry summer, featuring a pronounced wet season from October to April. In the warmer future, a distinctive wetter winter but drier spring and fall signify a sharpened seasonal cycle in mean precipitation, marked by a...
In mountainous regions, both precipitation and snowpack control runoff patterns that are integral to water supply and flood risk. Previous studies examined the roles of precipitation and snowpack individually—but not together. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National...

Recent Publications

Electricity capacity planning requires simultaneous consideration of multi-decadal and sub-annual power sector dynamics along with interactions of the power sector with other economic sectors and uncertain physical conditions. A challenge for long-term multi-sector models is to capture critical...
With projected expansion of biofuel production at a global scale, there is a pressing need to develop adequate representation of bioenergy crops in land surface models to help effectively quantify the biogeophysical and biogeochemical effects of its associated land use changes. This study...
Decision-makers today have relatively easy web-based access to climate projections from several different models and downscaled datasets. Yet, there is minimal guidance on the credibility and appropriate use of such models and projections for specific adaptation contexts. The few studies that...
Developing decision-relevant science for adaptation requires the identification of climatic parameters that are both actionable for practitioners as well as tractable for modelers. In many sectors, these decision-relevant climatic metrics and the approaches that enable their identification remain...
The electricity system relies upon the availability and predictability of water to support hydropower operations and cooling of thermoelectric plants, implying that water plays a fundamental role in power operations and that water-related stresses may have a critical effect on the electricity...
The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model has been extensively used for wind energy applications, and current releases include a scheme that can be applied to examine the effects of wind turbine arrays on the atmospheric flow and electricity generation from wind turbines. Herein we present a...
Changes in seasonality of extreme precipitation have important implications for flood and fire hazards and water resources. Here we explore the contributions of extreme and non‐extreme precipitation in the sharpened wet season in California under warming and the underlying mechanisms. Modeling...
Snowpack accumulation/ablation affects the runoff response to precipitation by modulating the water flux reaching the surface. Previous studies mostly focused on “rain‐on‐snow” events. Here we propose a framework to extend the scope and classify precipitation events accompanied by snow accumulation...
Earth System Models (ESMs) are excellent tools for quantifying many aspects of future climate dynamics but are too computationally expensive to produce large collections of scenarios for downstream users of ESM data. In particular, many researchers focused on the impacts of climate change require...
Wind energy is both a key potential mechanism to reduce climate forcing and a ‘weather-dependent’ energy source. Thus, while wind energy is making an increasing contribution to mitigation of human-induced climate change, climate variability and change have the potential to induce changes in both...