Department of Geography, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
April 2, 2008
3:00 pm: Conversation and Cookies in Room 108 Atmospheric Sciences Building
3:30 pm: Seminar in Room 103 Transportation Building
As one ponders a changing environment -- climate, hydrology, land use, biogeochemical cycles, human dynamics -- there is an increasing need to understand the long term evolution of the linked component systems (e.g., climatic, hydrologic and ecological) through conceptual and quantitative models. The most challenging problem toward this goal is to understand and incorporate the rich dynamics of multiple linked systems with weak and strong coupling, and with many internal variables that exhibit multi-scale interactions. The richness of these interactions leads to fluctuations in one variable that in turn drive the dynamics of other related variables. The key question then becomes: Do these complexities lend an inherently stochastic character to the system, rendering deterministic prediction and modeling of limited value, or do they translate into constrained self-organization through which emerges order, and a limited group of “active” processes (that may change from time to time) that determine the general evolution of the system through a series of structured states with a distinct signature? This is a grand challenge for predictability and therefore requires community effort. The interconnectivity and hence synthesis of knowledge across the fields should be natural for hydrologists since the global water cycle and its regional manifestations directly correspond to the information flows for mass and energy transformations across the media, and across the disciplines. Further, the rich history of numerical, conceptual and stochastic modeling in hydrology provides the training and breadth for addressing the multi-scale, complex system dynamics challenges posed by the evolution question. Theory and observational analyses that necessitate stepping back from the existing knowledge paradigms and looking at the integrated system are needed. In this talk I will present the outlines of a new NSF-funded community effort that attempts to forge inter-disciplinary synthesis through research efforts aimed at “improving predictability of water cycle dynamics in a changing environment.” The synthesis activities have brought together inter-disciplinary scientific teams to address specific open problems such as: (i) human-nature interactions and adaptations; (ii) role of the biosphere in water cycle dynamics; (iii) human induced changes to water cycle dynamics; and (iv) structure of landscapes and their evolution through time. All synthesis activities are underpinned by common unifying themes: (a) science of interacting processes; (b) variability as the driver of interactions and ecosystem functioning; (c) search for emergent behavior and organizing principles; and (d) complexity theory and non-equilibrium thermodynamics.
<< Back to Colloquia Schedule