UK Nonlinear News,
Complex Systems Research and Ecotechnology
A look at some of the research at the
Ecotechnology Research Centre,
Bedford, MK43 0AL.
The International Ecotechnology Research Centre (IERC) was set up in 1987 as a
result of an endowment from the Honda Foundation.
Ecotechnology concerns itself with the changing relationship between
science, society and the natural world. The research of IERC recognises that
the ‘’future is open to choice’’. Consequently, the research agenda aims to
explore policy options and their consequences, taking into account qualitative
factors, uncertainty and conflicts. It focuses on change processes and the
management of change, arising out of the dynamic interplay between science,
technology, society and the environment.
Complex System Dynamics
Professor Peter Allen, Mark Strathern
The IERC's range of human and technological interests are wide, from the
methodology of ecological assessment, strategy building for knowledge transfer,
or the investigation of environmental perception, to odour control in waste
One of the most fundamental aspects of its research is the continuing work on
Complex System Dynamics, led by
Peter M. Allen, the IERC's Head of
has been involved for almost 20 years in work on the mathematical modelling of
change and innovation in social, economic and ecological systems, and the
development of integrated systems models linking the physical, ecological and
socio-economic aspects of complex systems as a basis for improved decision
Following a B.Sc. and Ph.D. at Hull University in Theoretical Physics, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Université Libre de
Bruxelles, where he worked on self-organizing systems with the Nobel
Prizewinner, Ilya Prigogine.
The Complex Systems research
addresses the whole question of the process of "modelling" reality:
how detailed must a mathematical model be, to successfully reflect some
The successive assumptions behind this "classification" scheme choose the
variables that will represent a situation: they are decisive in generating
the shape of the model.
In reality there is a temporal and spatial hierarchy of interaction, and this
needs to be carefully identified; and of course the key issue is that
non-linear interactions at one level can lead to emergent structure at the
level above, so that internal microdiversity can lead to a creative
evolutionary process characterized by a changing taxonomy.
- Is a simple deterministic description sufficient ?
- Are self-organizing dynamics appropriate ?
- Or does a "full blown" evolutionary process need to be considered ?
Idealised mathematical models are being studied to investigate the effects
of both the selective processes of structural interactions, and the
creative motor of internal diversity.
But the work also provides a fundamental
background to the detailed modelling carried out in the Centre concerning
strategic planning and
policy exploration in complex situations.
The detailed models can exhibit all of the characteristic effects of
non-linear spatial dynamic models containing multiple feedbacks, including:
Applications are being made to understanding emergent ecological organization in
natural systems as well as in human ones involving innovation and technological
change, and evolving market structures.
models that have been developed show how the occurrence of innovation and change require
microscopic diversity among individuals. Their divergent values and/or imperfect knowledge lead
to an exploration of possible behaviours and strategies which generate complex communities,
whose interactions and possible responses to change can be largely unknown even to the
- Sensitive dependence on initial conditions.
- Bifurcations, when small perturbations lead to qualitative changes in the state of
- Hysteresis, when restoring policies to a previous state fails to return
the system to a previous equilibrium.
- Escape: the possibility of thresholds for powerful (even
disastrous) run-away processes.
Some of the IERC's current projects include:
- The Argolid Study.
- A geographically-coupled linked
physical, biological and socioeconomic model for land-use, to analyse and combat
possible land degradation and desertification on the coastal plain around the
city of Argos in Greece.
(Part of the EU's Archaeomedes programme)
- An integrated methodology for projecting the impact
of climate change and human activity on soil erosion and ecosystem degradation in the
Mediterranean, using a climatological gradient and dynamical systems approach.
- Rhone Valley Model
- A nonlinear coupled hierarchical model for the water quality of
the river and the neighbouring coastal waters, to explore the impacts of possible
environmental policies and economic and demographic development.
- The Tiger Project
- How to improve models of global climate change, taking into account the highly non-linear
coupling of agriculture and climate, to model dynamically changing spatial patterns of
vegetation cover and land use.
- Airliner Fire Safety
- Simulations to investigate fire safety in commercial passenger airline operations,
very non-linear spatial processes involved in fire spread, and also in passenger
in the Evolution of Cities
- A student PhD project, examining dynamical spatial models for urban environments, and
their stability with respect to bifurcations leading to multiple different possible
A PhD research studentship is currently available
The adaptation of an existing dynamic, complex systems competition
model to investigate possible changing market structures in the future information
industry, exploring the impact of new products and
companies, and pricing principles both for products and between
different players in the value chains.
For more details, see the
Vacant section in this UK Nonlinear News.
- More information about the Centre can be found from the IERC homepage:
- This includes more details about
of staff at the IERC,
its entry in the postgraduate
current research students' topics
- Alternatively, contact:
- Mrs Maureen Mahoney
- Group and Student Administrator,
- International Ecotechnology Research Centre,
- Cranfield University, Bedford, MK43 0AL.
- Tel:: +44 (0) 1234 754097, Fax: +44 (0) 1234 750163
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Last Updated: 31st January 2000.