Sectoral Interactions, Compounding Influences and Stressors, and Complex Systems: Understanding Tipping Points and Non-Linear Dynamics

Funding Program: 

This Cooperative Agreement is focused on the development and application of a multi-system, multisector modeling framework that includes land use, water supply and use, energy resources, multi-scale socioeconomics and Earth systems to explore potential tipping points and transition states for regional  to sub-regional scales, exploring the dynamics and potential new states that may emerge, as well as the driving forces contributing most significantly at the appropriate scales. The goal of this work is to understand how the convergence of human and natural systems and their interactions, both influence and are influenced by multi-scale economics.

The research team is investigating the scope, specificity, model forms, details, and data requirements for a meaningful understanding of dynamics spanning scales. The team is also exploring methods and acquiring insights that have the potential to be transferred and extended to other regions.  Research focuses on connections within and between two sub-regions of the United States: 1) the lower Midwest, and 2) the central Gulf Coast. Both of these target sub-regions are susceptible to various common types of individual and/or compound extreme events, including flooding, heat waves, and drought, and are likely to experience changes in population, economic activity, and transformation of energy, water, and land-using sectors. Additionally, the Midwest may experience severe snow/ice storms, while the Gulf region is highly exposed to the risk of tropical storms and hurricanes.  

Efforts are organized around three major overarching tasks:

  1. Multi-stressor risk triage, which quantifies the risk of multiple environmental and human stressors and influences, identifying vulnerable built and natural systems
  2. Understanding instabilities and tipping points
  3. Understanding the typology of response options.

To explore these complex interactions, the research team has chosen to focus their research on compounding influences and stressors in the target regions on: 1) water flow and quality, 2) coasts and 3) energy, and the resulting implications for multisector dynamics. The general objectives of the research are to  understand: 1) the forces and patterns that affect economic and infrastructure development across and within regions; 2) the characteristics of interacting natural, managed, and built environments and human processes that lead to stabilities, instabilities, and tipping points in economic and infrastructure development; and 3) how foresight could increase system resilience to future forces, stressors, and disturbances (both natural and as a result of economic and infrastructure development).

Based on the team’s analysis of structure, function, and evolution of interactions in physical, natural, and socioeconomic systems addressed above, they will identify extractable insights of relevance to other regions.

Project Term: 
2016 to 2022
Project Type: 
Cooperative Agreement (CA)