Conceptualizing & Developing Boundaries

Adequate definition and quantification of the PBs is essential and still an ongoing process, since both new estimation methods and comprehensive expert knowledge on complex earth system processes are becoming more integrated. This research theme focuses on the better quantification of selected PBs and their earth systemic interactions. The goal is to identify environmental key processes to ecological stability and Earth system thresholds of relevance for human development.

Yet, global changes are linked to and regulated by a complex mix of local processes – and vice versa.  Understanding global processes involves understanding the cross-scale interactions and feedbacks among connected system elements at lower spatial or temporal scales. We work on conceptualising ‘large’ social-biophysical systems and regional resilience.  Both, social and biophysical processes, cannot be predicted based on information obtained at a single scale. Characterizing the future ‘safe operating space’ for humanity requires radically new understanding of the thresholds, dynamics and cross-scale connections among global processes and forms the objective of this research theme of pb-net.


Related Projects

Planetary Boundaries Research at SRC
Since the planetary boundaries were first presented in 2009, researchers from around the world have sought to advance the concept. We are developing a knowledge platform to support these international research collaborations. Our goal is to advance scientific understanding about planetary boundaries and their implications for global sustainability.
Find out more about Planetary Boundaries Research at SRC.

The future is still open, but development possibilities are constrained by environmental limits. In the project, planetary opportunity spaces for resource use (biomass, water) of future societies as constrained by "planetary boundaries" are explored. Boundaries are designed and quantified anew, geographically explicitly, and with novel metrics.
Find out more about OPEN.

COPAN - Coevolutionary Pathways is dealing with linear and nonlinear feedbacks and alternative stable attractors in the mid- and long-term coevolution of natural and socio-economic subsystems of the Earth system like the great acceleration, great transformations, phase transitions between metabolic states, or societal collapses, natural and socio-economic planetary boundaries, and sustainable management pathways staying within these boundaries.
Find out more about COPAN.

Arctic Resilience Report
The Arctic Resilience Report is a science-based assessment that aims to better understand the integrated impacts of change in the Arctic. Its goal is to identify the potential for shocks and large shifts in ecosystems services that affect human well-being in the Arctic. Different drivers of change are analyzed to see, how they interact in ways that affect the ability of ecosystems and human populations to withstand shocks, adapt or transform. The project evaluates strategies for governments and communities to adapt.
Find out more about the Arctic Resilience Report.



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Dearing, J. A., R. Wang, K. Zhang, J. G. Dyke, H. Haberl, M. S. Hossain, P. G. Langdon, T. M. Lenton, K. Raworth, S. Brown, J. Carstensen, M. J. Cole, S. E. Cornell, T. P. Dawson, C. P. Doncaster, F. Eigenbrod, M. Flörke, E. Jeffers, A. W. Mackay, B. Nykvist & Poppy, G. M. (2014). Safe and just operating spaces for regional social-ecological systems. Global Environmental Change, 28, 227-238.

Gerten, D., Rockström, J., Heinke, J., Steffen, W., Richardson, K. & Cornell, S. 2015. Response to Comment on "Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet". Science 348, 1217.

Heitzig, J., Kittel, T., Donges, J. F. & Molkenthin, N. (2016). Topology of sustainable management of dynamical systems with desirable states: from defining planetary boundaries to safe operating spaces in the Earth System. Earth System Dynamics 7, 21-50.

Donges, J. F., Winkelmann, R., Lucht, W., Cornell, S. E., Dyke, J. G., Rockström, J., Heitzig, J. & Schellnhuber, H. J. (2017). Closing the loop: reconnecting human dynamics to Earth system analysis,
The Anthropocene Review 4(2), 151-157.