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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Review article
12 Jul 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).
Modelling feedbacks between human and natural processes in the land system
Derek T. Robinson1, Alan Di Vittorio2, Peter Alexander3,4, Almut Arneth5, C. Michael Barton6, Daniel G. Brown7, Albert Kettner8, Carsten Lemmen9, Brian C. O'Neill10, Marco Janssen11, Thomas A. M. Pugh12, Sam S. Rabin5, Mark Rounsevell3,5, James P. Syvitski13, Isaac Ullah14, and Peter H. Verburg15 1Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
2Climate and Environmental Sciences Department, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California, USA
3School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, United Kingdom
4Land Economy and Environment Research, SRUC, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG, United Kingdom
5Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research – Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
6School of Human Evolution & Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
7School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
8Dartmouth Flood Observatory, Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
9Institute of Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Geesthacht, Germany
10National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA
11School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
12School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom
13Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
14Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA
15Environmental Geography Group, Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Abstract. The unprecedented use of Earth's resources by humans, in combination with the increasing natural variability in natural processes over the past century, is affecting evolution of the Earth system. To better understand natural processes and their potential future trajectories requires improved integration with and quantification of human processes. Similarly, to mitigate risk and facilitate socio-economic development requires a better understanding of how the natural system (e.g., climate variability and change, extreme weather events, and processes affecting soil fertility) affects human processes. To capture and formalize our understanding of the interactions and feedback between human and natural systems a variety of modelling approaches are used. While integrated assessment models are widely recognized as supporting this goal and integrating representations of the human and natural system for global applications, an increasing diversity of models and corresponding research have focused on coupling models specializing in specific human (e.g., decision-making) or natural (e.g., erosion) processes at multiple scales. Domain experts develop these specialized models with a greater degree of detail, accuracy, and transparency, with many adopting open-science norms that use new technology for model sharing, coupling, and high performance computing. We highlight examples of four different approaches used to couple representations of the human and natural system, which vary in the processes represented and in the scale of their application. The examples illustrate how groups of researchers have attempted to overcome the lack of suitable frameworks for coupling human and natural systems to answer questions specific to feedbacks between human and natural systems. We draw from these examples broader lessons about system and model coupling and discuss the challenges associated with maintaining consistency across models and representing feedback between human and natural systems in coupled models.
Citation: Robinson, D. T., Di Vittorio, A., Alexander, P., Arneth, A., Barton, C. M., Brown, D. G., Kettner, A., Lemmen, C., O'Neill, B. C., Janssen, M., Pugh, T. A. M., Rabin, S. S., Rounsevell, M., Syvitski, J. P., Ullah, I., and Verburg, P. H.: Modelling feedbacks between human and natural processes in the land system, Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss.,, in review, 2017.
Derek T. Robinson et al.
Derek T. Robinson et al.
Derek T. Robinson et al.


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