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


Dahlia Domian profile picture

Dahlia Domian

Program and Project Officer/Finance Coordinator (ASA, NODES, EM)

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Andreas Richter

Guest Senior Research Scholar (EM)

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Serguei Kaniovski

Senior Guest Research Scholar (EM)

Nikita Strelkovskii profile picture

Nikita Strelkovskii

Research Scholar (EM, CAT)


Morocco West Africa

28 February 2024

A reliable food supply in West Africa requires smarter planning for low-yield events

Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) aims to create a world free of hunger. Africa is not making enough progress towards achieving this target with about 20% of the population experiencing ongoing hunger. In a new study, IIASA researchers developed a model to demonstrate how the reliability of food supply in West Africa can be enhanced in a cost-effective way by accounting for low-yield events.
SAS visit

27 February 2024

Slovak delegation from the Institute of Economic Research visits IIASA

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) hosted a delegation from the Institute of Economic Research of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS). The visit aimed at fostering collaboration and in-depth discussions on key economic models and research areas.
Madagascar farmers

26 February 2024

Prosocial preferences can provide better risk management for smallholder farming communities amid rising climate risks

Research conducted by scientists from IIASA and Princeton University suggests that a combination of insurance subsidies and policies that promote “prosocial preferences” ― decision-making preferences that account for community wellbeing ― can help facilitate optimal climate risk management and reduce economic losses.     


11 November 2023

Pursuing the urban utopia

Options Magazine, Winter 2023: As cities draw in more and more people, the challenges and opportunities posed by urbanization are ever-increasing. How can we make sure that the cities of tomorrow will serve both people and the planet?

26 June 2023

Advancing systems analysis for informed and agile decision making

Options Magazine, Summer 2023: Continuing innovation and developing new tools is crucial to effectively address problems, adapt to changing circumstances, and drive progress in an ever-evolving world. To bolster the institute’s analytical toolkit, IIASA is continuously developing new systems models and methods incorporating state-of-the-art technology.
Advanced Systems Analysis