Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene


In the Anthropocene, with exponential rise in human pressures such as greenhouse gas emissions and land-use change, there is an increasing risk of crossing critical thresholds and thereby degrading hard-wired biophysical processes that regulate the state of the entire Earth system. Continuing along this trajectory could eventually lead to a shift in Earth system feedbacks, from self-dampening (negative feedbacks) to self-amplifying (positive feedbacks). There is therefore an urgent need for understanding and quantifying the state of the self-regulatory and regenerative capacities of our planetary life-support system, in short Earth system resilience.

Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene

This FutureLab aims to develop a framework to characterize the resilience of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, exploring stability landscapes of critical geophysical, ecological and societal components, which are only fragmentarily known so far. This includes the identification of critical conditions and tipping points for these subsystems, their capacity to resist to and recover from disruptions, as well as the risk of cascading interactions between them. The FutureLab is based in Research Department 1 (RD1) on Earth System Analysis with links to the RD1 working groups on Ice Dynamics (ICE) and Whole Earth System Analysis (WhESA), and connects to core activities of other research departments. Several collaborations with RD4 and the FutureLab on Game Theory and Networks of Interacting Agents (GaNe) have already been established within ongoing activities in the COPAN collaboration and the DominoES project.

Internationally, this FutureLab contributes to the work of the Earth Commission and collaborates strongly with the ERC project ERA at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and is embedded in the Earth Resilience and Sustainability Initiative, a joint activity of Princeton University, the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Overarching research questions:

  • What is the risk of emerging domino effects and cascading dynamics of interacting tipping elements in the Earth's climate system and human societies?
  • How can the resilience of the Earth System and its interacting geophysical, ecological and societal components under anthropogenic disruptions be defined, modelled and measured?

Key research goals

  • Investigation of the role of potentially cascading, interacting tipping dynamics in the Earth's climate system and its human societies.
  • Development of a framework to define and characterize Earth system resilience within planetary boundaries.
  • Engaging in a community effort towards establishing an operational Earth Resilience Index.

To achieve these goals process-based climate modelling (POEM focus) will be combined with integrated World-Earth modelling approaches (copan:CORE focus) as well as methods from complex systems science.