Forest Cover Tipping Points

This is a model of forest stability and transitions, inspired by:

Global Resilience of Tropical Forest and Savanna to Critical Transitions

Marina Hirota, Milena Holmgren, Egbert H. Van Nes, Marten Scheffer

It has been suggested that tropical forest and savanna could represent alternative stable states, implying critical transitions at tipping points in response to altered climate or other drivers. So far, evidence for this idea has remained elusive, and integrated climate models assume smooth vegetation responses. We analyzed data on the distribution of tree cover in Africa, Australia, and South America to reveal strong evidence for the existence of three distinct attractors: forest, savanna, and a treeless state. Empirical reconstruction of the basins of attraction indicates that the resilience of the states varies in a universal way with precipitation. These results allow the identification of regions where forest or savanna may most easily tip into an alternative state, and they pave the way to a new generation of coupled climate models.

The paper is worth a read. It doesn’t present an explicit simulation model, but it does describe the concept nicely. I built the following toy model as a loose interpretation of the dynamics.

Some things to try:

Use a Synthesim override to replace Forest Cover with a ramp from 0 to 1 to see potentials and vector fields (rates of change), then vary the precipitation index to see how the stability of the forest, savanna and treeless states changes:

Start the system at different levels of forest cover (varying init forest cover), with default precipitation, to see the three stable attractors at zero trees, savanna (20% tree cover) and forest (90% tree cover):

Start with a stable forest, and a bit of noise (noise sd = .2 to .3), then gradually reduce precipitation (override the precipitation index with a ramp from 1 to 0) to see abrupt transitions in state:

There’s a more detailed discussion on my blog.

forest savanna treeless 1f.mdl (requires an advanced version of Vensim, or the free Model Reader)

forest savanna treeless 1f.vpm (ditto; includes a sensitivity file for varying the initial forest cover)

Stochastic Processes

This model replicates a number of the stochastic processes from Dixit & Pindyck’s Investment Under Uncertainty. It includes Brownian motion (Wiener process), geometric Brownian motion, mean-reverting and jump processes, plus forecast confidence bounds for some variations.

Units balance, but after updating this model I’ve decided that there may be a conceptual issue, related to the interpretation of units in parameters of the Brownian process variants. This arises due to the fact that the parameter sigma represents the standard deviation at unit time, and that some of the derivations gloss over units associated with substitutions of dz=epsilon*SQRT(dt). I don’t think these are of practical importance, but will revisit the question in the future. This is what happens when you let economists get hold of engineers’ math. 🙂

These structures would be handy if made into :MACRO:s for reuse.

stochastic processes 3.mdl (requires an advanced version of Vensim)

stochastic processes 3.vpm (published package; includes a sensitivity setup for varying NOISE SEED)

stochastic processes 3 PLE.mdl (Runs in PLE, omits only one equation of low importance)

Bifurcations from Strogatz’ Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos

The following models are replicated from Steven Strogatz’ excellent text, Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos.

These are just a few of the many models in the text. They illustrate bifurcations in one-dimensional systems (saddle node, transcritical, pitchfork) and one two-dimensional system (Hopf). The pitchfork bifurcation is closely related to the cusp catastrophe in the climate model recently posted.

Spiral from a point near the unstable fixed point at the origin to a stable limit cycle after a Hopf bifurcation (mu=.075, r0 = .025)

These are in support of an upcoming post on bifurcations and tipping points, so I won’t say more at the moment. I encourage you to read the book. If you replicate more of the models in it, I’d love to have copies here.

These are systems in normal form and therefore dimensionless and lacking in physical interpretation, though they certainly crop up in many real-world systems.

3-1 saddle node bifurcation.mdl

3-2 transcritical bifurcation.mdl

3-4 pitchfork bifurcation.mdl

8.2 Hopf bifurcation.mdl

Update: A related generic model illustrating critical slowing down:

critical slowing.mdl

Climate Catastrophe

This is an interesting, simple model of global ice age dynamics, from:

“A Catastrophe Model of the Paleoclimate”, Douglas R MacAyeal, Journal of Glaciology, Vol 24 No 90, 1979

It illustrates a pitchfork bifurcation as a slice through a cusp catastrophe. It’s conceptually related to earlier models by Budyko and Weertmans that demonstrated hysteresis in temperature and ice sheet dynamics.

The model is used qualitatively in the paper. I’ve assigned units of measure and parameter values that reveal the behavior of the catastrophe, but there’s no guarantee that they are physically realistic.

The .vpm package includes several .cin (changes) files that reproduce interesting tests on the model. The model runs in PLE, but you may want to use the Model Reader to access the .cin files in SyntheSim.



A note on the bathtub analogy

Adapted from “A note on the bathtub analogy,” PĂ„l Davidsen, Erling Moxnes, Mauricio Munera SĂĄnchez, David Wheat, 2011 System Dynamics Conference.


The bathtub analogy has been used extensively to illustrate stock and flow relationships. Because this analogy is frequently used, System Dynamicists should be aware that the natural outflow of water from a bathtub is a nonlinear function of water volume. A questionnaire suggests that students with one year or more of System Dynamics training tend to assume a linear relationship when asked to model a water outflow driven by gravity. We present Torricelli’s law for the outflow and investigate the error caused by assuming linearity. We also construct an “inverted funnel” which does behave like a linear system. We conclude by pointing out that the nonlinearity is of no importance for the usefulness of bathtubs or funnels as analogies. On the other hand, simplified analogies could make modellers overconfident in linear formulations and not able to address critical remarks from physicists or other specialists.

See my related blog post for details.

Units balance.

Runs in Vensim (any version): ToricelliBathtub.mdl ToricelliBathtub.vpm

The Economic Long Wave

This is John Sterman’s model of long waves (long-duration economic cycles), driven by capital accumulation dynamics. This version is replicated from a JEBO article,

STERMAN, J. D. (1985) A Behavioral Model of the Economic Long Wave. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 6, 17-53.

There’s some interesting related literature (including other economic models in this library). From Sterman’s publications list:

STERMAN, J. D. & MOSEKILDE, E. (1994) Business Cycles and Long Waves: A Behavioral, Disequilibrium Perspective. IN SEMMLER, W. (Ed.) Business Cycles: Theory and Empirical Methods. Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

STERMAN, J. D. (1994) The Economic Long Wave: Theory and Evidence. IN SHIMADA, T. (Ed.) An Introduction to System Dynamics. Tokyo.

STERMAN, J. D. (2002) A Behavioral Model of the Economic Long Wave. IN EARL, P. E. (Ed.) The Legacy of Herbert Simon in Economic Analysis. Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar.

STERMAN, J. D. (1985) An Integrated Theory of the Economic Long Wave. Futures, 17, 104-131.

RASMUSSEN, S., MOSEKILDE, E. & STERMAN, J. D. (1985) Bifurcations and Chaotic Behavior in a Simple Model of the Economic Long Wave. System Dynamics Review, 1, 92-110.

STERMAN, J. D. (1983) The Long Wave. Science, 219, 1276.

KAMPMANN, C., HAXHOLDT, C., MOSEKILDE, E. & STERMAN, J. D. (1994) Entrainment in a Disaggregated Economic Long Wave Model. IN LEYDESDORFF, L. & VAN DEN BESSELAAR, P. (Eds.) Evolutionary Economics and Chaos Theory. London, Pinter.

MOSEKILDE, E., LARSEN, E. R., STERMAN, J. D. & THOMSEN, J. S. (1993) Mode Locking and Nonlinear Entrainment of Macroeconomic Cycles. IN DAY, R. & CHEN, P. (Eds.) Nonlinear Economics and Evolutionary Economics. New York, Oxford University Press.

MOSEKILDE, E., THOMSEN, J. S. & STERMAN, J. D. (1992) Nonlinear Interactions in the Economy. IN HAAG, G., MÜLLER, U. & TROITZSCH, K. (Eds.) Economic Evolution and Demographic Change. Berlin, Springer Verlag.

THOMSEN, J. S., MOSEKILDE, E. & STERMAN, J. D. (1991) Hyperchaotic Phenomena in Dynamic Decision Making. IN SINGH, M. G. & TRAVÉ-MASSUYÈS, L. (Eds.) Decision Support Systems and Qualitative Reasoning. Amsterdam, Elsevier Science Publishers.

THOMSEN, J. S., MOSEKILDE, E., LARSEN, E. R. & STERMAN, J. D. (1991) Mode-Locking and Chaos in a Periodically Driven Model of the Economic Long Wave. IN EBELING, W. (Ed.) Models of Self Organization in Complex Systems. Berlin, Akademie Verlag.

STERMAN, J. D. (1988) Nonlinear Dynamics in the World Economy: The Economic Long Wave. IN CHRISTIANSEN, P. & PARMENTIER, R. (Eds.) Structure, Coherence, and Chaos in Dynamical Systems. Manchester, Manchester University Press.

STERMAN, J. D. (1987) Debt, Default, and Long Waves: Is History Relevant? IN BOECKH, A. (Ed.) The Escalation in Debt and Disinflation: Prelude to Financial Mania and Crash? Montreal, BCA Publications.

STERMAN, J. D. (1987) An Integrated Theory of the Economic Long Wave. IN WANG, Q., SENGE, P., RICHARDSON, G. P. & MEADOWS, D. H. (Eds.) Theory and Application of System Dynamics. Beijing, New Times Press.

STERMAN, J. D. (1987) The Economic Long Wave: Theory and Evidence. IN VASKO, T. (Ed.) The Long Wave Debate. Berlin, Springer Verlag.

RASMUSSEN, S., MOSEKILDE, E. & STERMAN, J. D. (1987) Bifurcations and Chaotic Behavior in a Simple Model of the Economic Long Wave. IN WANG, Q., SENGE, P., RICHARDSON, G. P. & MEADOWS, D. H. (Eds.) Theory and Application of System Dynamics. Beijing, New Times Press.

And from Christian Kampmann,

“The Role of Prices in Long Wave Entrainment” (with C. Haxholdt, E. Mosekilde, and J.D. Sterman), International System Dynamics Conference, Stirling, U.K. and at the Spring 1994 ORSA/TIMS conference, Boston, MA. 1994.
“Disaggregating a simple model of the economic long wave” International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, Keystone, CO, 1985.
The long wave model was the guine pig for Kampmann’s interesting ’96 conference paper that combined a graph-theoretic identification of a set of feedback loops having independent gains with eigenvalue analysis,
Kampmann, Christian E.   Feedback Loop Gains and System Behavior
There also used to be a nifty long wave game, programmed on NEC minicomputers (32k memory?), but I’ve lost track of it. I’d be interested to here of a working version.

Economic Cycles: Underlying Causes

Nathaniel Mass’ model of economic cycles, replicated from his 1975 book, Economic Cycles: An Analysis of Underlying Causes, which unfortunately seems to have disappeared from the Productivity Press site (though you can still find used copies).

I haven’t checked, but I’m guessing that the model is quite similar to that in his PhD thesis, which you can get from MIT libraries here. Here’s the abstract:

The models: mass2.mdl mass2.vpm

These don’t have units defined, unfortunately – I’d love to have a copy with units if you’re so inclined.

The Dynamics of Commodity Production Cycles

These classic models are from Dennis Meadows’ dissertation, the Dynamics of Commodity Production Cycles:

While times have changed, the dynamics described by these models are still widespread.

These versions should work in all recent Vensim versions:

DLMhogs2.vpm DLMhogs2.mdl

DLMgeneric2.vpm DLMgeneric2.mdl


Lotka-Volterra predator-prey system

The Lotka-Volterra equations, which describe a predator-prey system, must be one of the more famous dynamic systems. There are many generalizations and applications outside of biology.

Wikipedia has a nice article, which I used as the basis for this simple model.

Continue reading “Lotka-Volterra predator-prey system”

Path Dependence, Competition, and Succession in the Dynamics of Scientific Revolution

This is a very interesting model, both because it tackles ‘soft’ dynamics of paradigm formation in ‘hard’ science, and because it is an aggregate approach to an agent problem. Unfortunately, until now, the model was only available in DYNAMO, which limited access severely. It turns out to be fairly easy to translate to Vensim using the dyn2ven utility, once you know how to map the DYNAMO array FOR loops to Vensim subscripts.

Path Dependence, Competition, and Succession in the Dynamics of Scientific Revolution

J. Wittenberg and J. D. Sterman, 1999


What is the relative importance of structural versus contextual forces in the birth and death of scientific theories? We describe a dynamic model of the birth, evolution, and death of scientific paradigms based on Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The model creates a simulated ecology of interacting paradigms in which the creation of new theories is stochastic and endogenous. The model captures the sociological dynamics of paradigms as they compete against one another for members. Puzzle solving and anomaly recognition are also endogenous. We specify various regression models to examine the role of intrinsic versus contextual factors in determining paradigm success. We find that situational factors attending the birth of a paradigm largely determine its probability of rising to dominance, while the intrinsic explanatory power of a paradigm is only weakly related to the likelihood of success. For those paradigms that do survive the emergence phase, greater explanatory power is significantly related to longevity. However, the relationship between a paradigm’s ‘strength’ and the duration of normal science is also contingent on the competitive environment during the emergence phase. Analysis of the model shows the dynamics of competition and succession among paradigms to be conditioned by many positive feedback loops. These self-reinforcing processes amplify intrinsically unobservable micro-level perturbations in the environment – the local conditions of science, society, and self faced by the creators of a new theory – until they reach macroscopic significance. Such dynamics are the hallmark of self-organizing evolutionary systems.

We consider the implications of these results for the rise and fall of new ideas in contexts outside the natural sciences such as management fads.

Cite as: J. Wittenberg and J. D. Sterman (1999) Path Dependence, Competition, and Succession in the Dynamics of Scientific Revolution. Organization Science, 10.

I believe that this version is faithful to the original, but it’s difficult to be sure because the model is stochastic, so the results differ due to differences in the random number streams. For the moment, this model should be regarded as a beta release.

Continue reading “Path Dependence, Competition, and Succession in the Dynamics of Scientific Revolution”