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Qualitative Physics: An alternative approach to assess coupled human-environment systems

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  • User Jurgen P. Kropp, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany
  • ClockMonday 13 August 2007, 12:05-12:50
  • HouseLaw Faculty, Cambridge.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Nick Watkins.

Current research in earth system science follows two directions: The first analyzes broad scale processes of the entire earth, as e.g. potential vegetation distribution or global warming, and develops and improves global models. The second dimension of global change research is related to the circumstance that policy makers increasingly demand concrete policy advice from the side of science. It focuses mainly on the the human-environment interface. Whenever we are estimating society-environment interferences certain presumptions about humankind’s behavior are needed. Dealing with quantitative models this often implies that we have to estimate parameter settings. Nevertheless for many cases in formal models, e.g. for economic decisions, these parameters are rather uncertain. Therefore we suggest qualitative physics as an alternative approach to analyze human-environment problems. Since in such complex environments the challenge should not be performances of increasingly detailed formal analysis – with a high risk of failure – but to follow an analytical approach allowing to identify the general functionalities of a system [7]. Such approach should include the identification of potential precursor signals indicating critical events or should at least supply a weak prognosis of a system’s potential development paths (cf. e.g. [5]). Viability analysis [1] and qualitative differential equations [6] are valuable concepts in this context. In the lecture the (dynamical) pattern approach is used as a basis of knowledge deduction. This is necessary for an examination of real-world systems that cannot be described in unique ways (cf. e.g. [3]). By several examples, e.g. for the management of open access resources or climate research (e.g. [2,4,5], their usefulness will be exemplified.


[1] Aubin JP (1991): Viability Theory. Birkhuser, Basle, ISBN 9780817635718 .

[2] Eisenack K, Welsch H, and Kropp JP (2006): A qualitative dynamical modelling approach to capital accumulation in unregulated fisheries. Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control. 30: 2613-2636.

[3] Kropp JP and Scheffran J. (eds.) (2007): Advanced Methods, for Decision Making and Risk Management in Sustainability Science. New York: Nova Science Publishers, New York, ISBN 9781600214271 .

[4] Kropp JP, Eisenack K, and Scheffran J (2006): Marine overexploitation: a syndrome of global change. In: Multiple Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (ed. S. Sonak), Chapt. 15, p. 257-284. TERI Press, New Dehli, ISBN 8179930912 .

[5] Kropp JP, Zickfeld K, and Eisenack K. (2002): Management of critical events: the breakdown of marine fisheries and the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation In: The Science of Disasters: Climate Disruptions, Heart Attacks, and Market Crashes, pp. 192-216, edited by A Bunde, JP Kropp, and HJ Schellnhuber, Berlin: Springer, 453 pp., ISBN 3540413243 .

[6] Kuipers B (1994) Qualitative reasoning: modeling and simulation with incomplete knowledge. Cambridge: MIT Press, 418 pp., ISBN 026211190X .

[7] Schellnhuber H J and Kropp J. (1998): Geocybernetics: controlling a complex dynamical system under uncertainty. Naturwissenschaften 85 (9): 411-425.

This talk is part of the British Antarctic Survey's Natural Complexity: Data and Theory in Dialogue series.

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