Adaptive Networks of Socio-metabolic Flows

The goal of this flagship initiative is to study the flows of energy and raw materials that support human societies (denoted as social metabolism) across scales from global to urban.

Speaker: Helga Weisz



Social metabolism, the exchange of energy and materials across social and environmental systems, constitutes the physical basis of societies. The magnitude and composition of the social metabolism varies significantly in time and between societies. The industrial metabolism, the specific socio-metabolic regime of industrial societies, has a pertinent role in providing human welfare but also negatively impacts the Earth's climate and ecosystems. The added value of a socio-metabolic perspective lies in its ability to link, both conceptually and in quantitative empirical ways, the analysis of human history and modern society to global environmental change research, including climate mitigation, impact and adaptation analysis.


We use methods of complex and adaptive network analysis and agent based modeling. To date these methods are rarely applied to socio-metabolic research, although they are particularly well suited to unravel fundamental and relevant aspects of the structure, evolution and vulnerability of the physical supply chains in current socio-metabolic systems In addition, the application of agent based techniques bears a high potential to address the as yet severely under-researched question of how the physical metabolic dimension of human societies is structurally coupled to socio-economic dynamics on various scales.

Research topics


Power from asymmetric dependence in the global network of aggregate trade in 2010. Only very few countries are in an overall dominant position (blue).

We have developed new network metrics to quantify asymmetries and shifting power structure  in global trade networks. First, we developed a collection of tools (CaTENA) for preprocessing, analysing and visualizing bilateral trade data. The core of CaTENA is a maximum like- lihood estimation to harmonize conflicting and incomplete raw data, and an increasing number of complex network measures for exploring structural properties of socio-metabolic systems.

Structure of Global Trade Networks

The industrial metabolism relies on a complex and growing global supply network of raw materials. We have created the first weighted and directed formal representation of the global physical trade network at the aggregated and the individual commodity level. We have developed new network metrics to measure shifting market power in those networks. Our findings allow us to trace shifting market power in global trade networks at the level of single commodities over time, to assess potential supply risks associated with the specific embedding of individual countries and regarding individual commodities such as critical metals.


Magnesium Bild

Power networks for magnesium 1995 and 2010. Nodes represent countries and edges represent trade connections. Node size and edge thickness indicate market power from asymmetric trade. Node color ranges from asymmetric dependence (red) to asymmetric dominance (blue).

Ongoing third party funded projects:

April 2015 – March 2016
Contact: Helga Weisz
Carbon Footprints
April 2017 – March 2019
Contact: Weisz, Helga
IIASA Verein
Verein zur Förderung des internationalen Instituts für angewandte Systemanalyse e.V.
April 2015 – December 2017, Funded by: BMBF, PT DLR
Contact: Weisz, Helga

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