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Understanding Multistressor and Multiscale Drivers of Feedbacks, Cascading Failures, and Risk Management Pathwayswithin Complex MSD Systems

Active Dates 8/15/2021-8/14/2026
Program Area Multi-sector Dynamics
Project Description
Understanding risk and response behaviors within the context of landscape evolution, interconnected infrastructures, and the resilience of complex systems poses a major challenge in the emerging field of MultiSector Dynamics (MSD). Identifying, modeling, and analyzing the multiscale, multisystem response options and cross-system implications requires not only an understanding of multisector teleconnections in the coupled human and Earth system, but also how interconnected systems are exposed to hazards that create vulnerabilities and risks for society and how societies respond to these risks. To address this challenge, this project seeks to answer three new, critical, and interrelated research questions: (1) How can we characterize and quantify the propagation of hazards (flood, water scarcity, wildfire) through the MSD system, affecting the exposure and vulnerability of populations and human built systems to these hazards? (2) How do these populations and physical systems respond to these risks and how do those responses feed back to the MSD system as part of a fully coupled, co-evolutionary human and natural Earth system? (3) What are the features and characteristics that fundamentally give rise to resilient human and institutional response strategies?

The project will utilize and extend previously-developed MSD frameworks with new work aimed at understanding human and institutional responses to hazards in conjunction with the quantification and characterization of hazards.  A particular focus is to identify, characterize, and compare risk management strategies and adaptive measures and their implications for systems resilience. Variation across case studies is key to identifying these characteristics. Therefore, the team will (i) vary hazards within a region to identify interplay between hazards and (ii) vary regions for a specific hazard to identify regional differences in impacts and responses to a specific hazard. This will allow the team to understand and model how strategies differ depending on the type of hazard and region under consideration.

The project comprises two regional case studies—water stress and wildfires in the US West, and water stress and flooding in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest—that will form the basis of three intercomparison exercises.  The first is an intercomparison of water stress responses and implications in the West and Great Plains. The second is an intercomparison of flooding responses and implications in the Upper Midwest, Gulf Coast, and East Coast. Lastly, the team will also conduct a method intercomparison of uncertainty characterization and quantification (UC/UQ) techniques to test how generalizable the chosen UC/UQ methodological approach is to alternative modeling frameworks and applications.

This project will result in the development of new insights and methods for risk identification, characterization, and responses that will be tested and refined within the project, as well as shared and compared with methods being developed by other research teams. The research design proposed here will allow alternative approaches to these critical analytical challenges to be compared and contrasted within a “test-bed” like environment rather than seeking to identify a single dominant consensus modeling framework. This research strategy should enable the team to achieve its research objectives while also providing large synergistic benefits to other MSD research teams and the broader research community.
Award Recipient(s)
  • Pennsylvania State University (PI: Fisher-Vanden, Karen)