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

Active Dates 12/15/2022-12/14/2027
Program Area Multi-sector Dynamics
Project Description
This project aims to advance MultiSector Dynamics (MSD) research and methods by enhancing and combining multi-disciplinary tools, analytic methods, and visualization platforms to explore the implications of influences, stressors, and risks for complex interconnected physical and socio-economic systems. An underpinning motivation of MSD research is the recognition that society is under continual exposure to changing and co-evolving risks across interconnected systems. These risks operate across a variety of time and spatial scales, and our research focuses on the potential differential responses to slowly evolving forces versus changes in extreme events. To achieve these insights, we will advance and utilize a multi-system, multisector modeling framework to explore a set of use cases and experiments. Our project focuses on the Mississippi River Basin, a critically important region that is the 4th largest watershed in the world, produces 92% of the nation’s agricultural exports, moves 175 million tons of freight each year, and contains up to 326 thermoelectric power plants generating 227 GW of power annually. It is home to many strong connections between land, water, energy, and transportation as well as subject to multiple extreme events (e.g. floods, droughts and heat waves) and other abrupt and gradual changes (e.g. related to economic and population growth, energy transitions, land use changes, demand changes, etc.), making it well-suited for MSD research. 

Using this geographic area to focus the research, we willpursue a broader goal of better understanding forces and patterns, stabilities and instabilities, foresight, and the resilience of co-evolving systems in the context of multiple and compounding human and environmental stressors. In exploring the convergence of human and natural systems and stressors in this region, we seek to develop methods and acquire insights that have the potential to be transferred and extended to other regions, and more generally investigate the scope, specificity, model forms, details, interoperability and data requirements for meaningful understanding of dynamics spanning scales. 

The research includes three overarching tasks: (1) advancing our multi-system modeling framework, with specific emphasis on our multi-system risk triage platform, a new scenario discovery visualization tool and methods for extreme event prediction; (2) investigating a set of use cases in the Mississippi River Basin with focus on (a) human-natural system interactions and  upstream-downstream dynamics, and (b) transportation infrastructure in multisector systems; and (3) stress-testing interconnected systems in the Basin by bringing together components of the use cases to test strategic pairings in order to investigate compounding stressors, propagating risks, tipping points and resilience. Throughout these tasks we will explore the generalizability and extensibility of both MSD tools and insights while advancing MSD understanding and frontier methods/tools.

We expect this project to have a broad range of impacts. It will result in new methods, tools, and an integrated multi-system modeling framework that includes new linkages among systems, sectors and scales. This will advance the frontier of MSD capabilities, while developing better understanding of cross-scale modeling and model interoperability. A subset of the tools developed will be interactive community platforms that can be used by a range of researchers and decision-makers. Application of these tools to the use cases will provide new insights into the Mississippi River Basin, while also pushing the boundaries of MSD research into new areas, including transportation and important human-natural interactions related to air and water quality, human health and well-being. The stress-testing of paired systems will provide understanding of system-of-systems responses to compounding stresses and how the scope of study can affect individual sector/system outcomes and responses. In addition, the project will foster stronger collaboration within the MSD community of practice, and advance MSD understanding, capabilities and generalizable insights.
Award Recipient(s)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PI: Prinn, Ronald)