Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems (EM) focuses on the development of integrative models of different complexity to better understand complex feedbacks in human-natural systems.

Over the next decade, IIASA research will address itself to transformational changes towards sustainable social-economic-environmental systems. To underpin this research with methodological advances, the Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group (EM) focuses on three modeling areas:

  1. Socioeconomic complexity: Micro-level detailed models that account for socioeconomic complexity, for instance, models with explicit representation of individual behaviors and their interactions that allow studying distributional impacts at different spatial and temporal scales; and models that realistically represent financial transactions, trade flows, and supply chains linked to biophysical sub-models.
  2. Integrative Earth systems models: Intermediate complexity models of Earth systems; evolutionary dynamics of Earth’s ecosystems; and exploratory modeling of linkages between socioeconomic and Earth systems.
  3. Macro-level systems models: Stylized models to address a multitude of challenges and problems related to the transformation to sustainability.

These models are complemented and supported by the area of:

  • Model processing and analysis: Multiple equilibria, regime shifts, tipping points, model sensitivity, robust decision making, optimal responses, model validation, distributed modeling and decision making, tradeoffs, and adaptive dynamics.

EM deploys a flexible multi-model approach that involves stylized models, intermediate-complexity models, and micro-level detailed simulators. To account for socioeconomic complexity, EM exploits the digital revolution and makes use of the progress in computing capabilities to develop micro-level detailed economic simulators, such as agent-based models that allow studying the economy out of equilibrium, account for heterogeneous agents, and relaxes the assumption of rational expectations.

Intermediate complexity models of Earth systems enable investigating these systems on long timescales or at reduced computational cost and make the inclusion of previously unincorporated earth-systems and feedback effects feasible. Furthermore, EM contributes to the development of methods and models for eco-evolutionary dynamics, in particular the theory of adaptive dynamics and more detailed eco-genetic models to address biodiversity in Earth’s ecosystems.

Stylized models of different processes are developed and used for hypothesis testing and to explore the richness of systems dynamics including, non-linearities, tipping points, etc. Model processing and analysis addresses itself to methods and approaches from the theory of dynamic systems, adaptive dynamics, evolutionary game theory, optimal control theory, stochastic optimization, mathematical statistics, model linkage, and reinforcement learning, among other areas.

Models, tools, datasets

coal powerplant

Emissions-Temperature-Uncertainty Framework (ETU)


Paper plane

Agent-based models to inform economic policies on migration (ABM2Policy)


Systems analysis of patterns of COVID-19 spread in Europe and Russia


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Andreas Richter

Guest Senior Research Scholar (EM)

Sergey Aseev profile picture

Sergey Aseev

Guest Research Scholar (EM)

Anna Shchiptsova profile picture

Anna Shchiptsova

Researcher (EM)

Yue He profile picture

Yue He

PKU-IIASA International Postdoctoral Fellow (EM)


Sunset on a factory creating high emmissions in Scotland

11 November 2022

No sign of decrease in global CO2 emissions

Global carbon emissions in 2022 remain at record levels with no sign of the decrease that is urgently needed to limit warming to 1.5°C, according to the Global Carbon Project science team. If current emissions levels persist, there is now a 50% chance that global warming of 1.5°C will be exceeded in nine years.
O2 release and CO2 escape

24 October 2022

Scanning the Eurasian horizon for new CO2 offsetting opportunities

The possibility of global temperatures exceeding the Paris Agreement 1.5°C target is rising every year. We already face the impact of climate change through often extreme weather conditions which threaten ecosystems and risk livelihoods. Yet, current plans to reach net-zero emissions targets do not go far enough to achieve the 1.5C target in time.


28 November 2022

Protecting against phosphorus runoff in the Lake Erie watershed

Options Magazine, Winter 2022: Nutrient runoff from croplands is threatening the integrity of natural waters. Researchers devised sustainable management practices to protect against phosphorous overload in Lake Erie.
Regional impacts
Illustration showing supply chain management icons connected to each other on blue background.

18 November 2022

Understanding supply chain disruptions: a Q&A with IIASA postdoctoral fellow Célian Colon

Célian Colon is a research scholar in the Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group of the IIASA Advancing Systems Analysis Program and a Peter E. De Jànosi Postdoctoral Fellowship holder at IIASA. He recently sat down with 2022 Science Communication Fellow, Jakob Angeli, to talk about resilience, his career path, and why throwing money at COVID-related research can be counterproductive.

Morning fog in dense tropical rainforest

03 November 2022

How do droughts affect the ability of trees to absorb CO2?

Jaideep Joshi highlights the results of a recent study in which he and his colleagues looked into the impacts of the novel environmental conditions that plants are exposed to today as a result of the changing climate.