FutureLab - Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene

FutureLab on Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene, hosted by Research Department 1 on Earth System Analysis, co-leaders Ricarda Winkelmann and Jonathan F. Donges

Co-leaders: Ricarda Winkelmann, Jonathan F. Donges

Overarching research questions:

  • What are critical thresholds for tipping elements in the Earth System? What is the risk for domino effects and tipping cascades to be triggered by human interference?
  • How can the resilience of the Earth System and its interacting physical, ecological and societal components under anthropogenic disruptions be defined, characterized, modelled and measured?


Climate change is often still perceived as a (gradual) shift of the Earth system in a flat stability landscape. That is, it is assumed that the Earth system can be stabilized at various degrees of global warming depending on the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. However, amounting scientific evidence shows that there are positive feedbacks and tipping elements both in the natural and societal spheres of the Earth System giving rise to attracting valleys and hills (basin boundaries) in the stability landscape. These have the potential to destabilize the Earth system and (irreversibly) take us to a “hothouse” future through a set of domino-interactions.

This FutureLab aims to develop a framework to characterize the resilience of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, exploring stability landscapes of critical physical, biological and societal components, which are only known fragmentarily so far. This includes the identification of critical thresholds/tipping points for these subsystems, as well as their potential to resist to and recover from disruptions. The FutureLab will be based in Research Department 1 (RD1) on Earth System Analysis with links to the RD1 working groups on Ice Dynamics and Whole Earth System Analysis, 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.

Key research goals for this FutureLab

  • Identify critical thresholds of physical and biological tipping elements and their potential for domino effects.
  • Characterize social tipping elements which either have the potential to effect a significant change in the future Earth system trajectory or are themselves driven by changes in the climate system.
  • Develop a framework to define and characterize Earth system resilience and engage in a community effort towards establishing an Earth Resilience Index.

We will combine process-based climate modelling (POEM focus) with integrated World-Earth modelling approaches (copan:CORE focus) as well as methods from complex systems science.


Current members of the Earth Resilience FutureLab:

  • Adrian Heilemann (Master student, RD1)
  • Ann Kristin Klose (Master student, RD1)
  • Valentin Wohlfarth (Master student, RD1)

FutureLab Alumni:

  • Jonathan Krönke (former Master student, RD1)
  • Jakob Lochner (former Master student, RD1)
  • Hannah Mevenkamp (former Bachelor student, RD1)
  • Benedikt Stumpf (former Master student, RD1)


Work in our FutureLab is supported by the following third-party funded projects:

  • Geo.X Young Academy PhD training programme
  • European Research Council Advanced Grant project ERA (Earth resilience in the Anthropocene)
  • Leibniz Association project DominoES (Domino effects in the Earth system - Can Antarctica tip climate policy?)
  • IRTG 1740: International Research Training Group on Dynamical Phenomena in Complex Networks: Fundamentals and Applications (funded by DFG and FAPESP)
  • EU H2020 project TiPACCs
  • EU H2020 project TiPES (Tipping points in the Earth system)
  • Princeton-Humboldt Cooperation and Collective Cognition Network (CoCCoN)

The following publications are currently under review and discussion:


In press

  • J. Garbe, T. Albrecht, J.F. Donges, A. Levermann, and R. Winkelmann,
    Hysteresis of the Antarctic ice sheet
    Nature, in press (2020).
  • N. Wunderling, M. Willeit, J.F. Donges, and R. Winkelmann,
    Additional global warming commitment due to crossing critical thresholds within the Earth’s cryosphere
    Nature Communications, in press (2020).



At the time of establishment of the Earth Resilience FutureLab in January 2019, we build on the following works from our earlier research, many of which were carried out in the COPAN and ANTHROIA flagships projects as well as in the framework of the DominoES project: