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.


paper cut-out figures on blue background give high five

10 May 2022

IIASA recognizes outstanding research contributions

IIASA recently instituted a new system of awards to recognize outstanding contributions towards meeting the strategic priorities and values of the institute. We are proud to announce that five IIASA research activities have been recognized in the inaugural 2022 award cycle.
Conceptual image with an hourglass and a world map

10 March 2022

We are running out of time to counteract global change

The increase in emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is only one of several serious global threats to our continued existence on Earth, and their reduction is at the core of international agreements like the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Together with Ukrainian colleagues, IIASA researchers took a novel approach to further the understanding of the planetary burden and its dynamics caused by emissions from human activity.


Rice fields in the north of Thailand. Rice crops in water.

Global LandScapes: RFS-IIASA Rapid Spatial Analysis


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

Paper plane

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


Response of the Earth System to overshoot, Climate neUtrality and negative Emissions (RESCUE)


SHELscape is a spatially-explicit agent-based model for understanding short-run post-natural disasters non-linear adjustment processes in a multi-market framework.


10 August 2021

Defense of the natural realm

Options Magazine, Summer 2021: At a crucial moment for beleaguered nature, IIASA research is showing that we can reverse biodiversity loss. It will need an effort that is grand in scale and focused where rewards are greatest.
Animals in front of a mountain

15 November 2020

Integrated management of food-energy-water-land for sustainable development

Options Winter 2020: A joint project between IIASA and the National Academy of Science Ukraine has provided valuable input to Ukrainian policies based on the principles of sustainable development.
wheat field