Mason Center to Model Social Consequences of Climate Change
By Tara Laskowski
If you’ve ever played a simulation game such as World of Warcraft or SimCity, then you may begin to understand what the Center for Social Complexity does.
The center, directed by Mason researcher Claudio Cioffi-Revilla, uses complex models of civilizations to try to predict possible outcomes of certain situations over many years. The center examines many “what ifs” on very serious topics—from terrorism and conflict to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Their latest project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), will look at how climate change may affect humans and societies in the next 100 years.
The center will focus on two key areas of the world with this latest grant. Sub-Saharan Africa currently has the largest number of people at risk of displacement, disease, or death because of climate change. The team will also look at areas in Europe, the United States, and Canada (called the Circumboreal Region) where the largest economies and most wealth are at risk because of the greatest physical changes in the biosphere.
“The center has investigated a range of topics that include terrorism and conflict, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and financial and economic market dynamics,” says Cioffi-Revilla. This project is a perfect extension to our ongoing and previous work on complex crises.”
Cioffi-Revilla, along with Mason climate scientist Paul Schopf, Mason computer scientist Sean Luke, and Smithsonian anthropologist Daniel Rogers, will use advanced computational simulation models based on a toolkit and computation library developed at Mason by Luke. The four-year project, a joint effort with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, is in its first year.
These models, much more complicated than the popular simulation games played by millions, take into consideration weather, political affiliations, agriculture, environment, and historic events. Models are used not only to predict outcomes, but also to demonstrate events and circumstances that already happened. For example, one of the center’s completed projects mapped out the rise, fall, and development of different polities in central Asia from 300 BC to after the Mongol Empire, a 2,000-year span.
For this latest grant, a series of increasingly advanced simulation models will be developed, tested, and analyzed using a set of scenarios combining climate models and different social dynamics—infrastructure, government relations, economy, and such—for each region. The project will examine the past 100 years and model the next 100 years.
“What will happen to societies as the planet gets warmer? What infrastructure—roads, hospitals, cities, and bridges—will be most at risk as the land they were built on gets warmer and changes? What people are most at risk for disease and displacement? These are some of the questions we hope to answer,” says Cioffi-Revilla.
Results from this project are expected to contribute to the fundamental scientific understanding of these complex dynamics and provide a basis for new insights in policy analysis. The team also hopes to provide new analytical tools for the policy analysis community working on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, including the U.S. Department of State’s Humanitarian Information Unit.
The grant will also fund a team of graduate student research assistants who will work closely with faculty at both Mason and the Smithsonian.
The center was founded in 2002 and has received highly competitive peer-reviewed grants from NSF, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Office of Naval Research, among others.
This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.
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