Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

Development of numerical systemic models (economy / society / environment) at local scales

The problem we consider is intrinsically interdisciplinary: it draws on social sciences, ecology or science of the planet. The modeling of the considered phenomena must take into account many factors of different nature which interact with varied functional relationships. These heterogeneous dynamics are a priori nonlinear and complex: they may have saturation mechanisms, threshold effects, and may be density dependent. The difficulties are compounded by the strong interconnections of the system (presence of important feedback loops) and multi-scale spatial interactions. Environmental and social phenomena are indeed constrained by the geometry of the area in which they occur. Climate and urbanization are typical examples. These spatial processes involve proximity relationships and neighborhoods, like for example, between two adjacent parcels of land, or between several macroscopic levels of a social organization. The multi-scale issues are due to the simultaneous consideration in the modeling of actors of different types and that operate at specific scales (spatial and temporal). For example, to properly address biodiversity issues, the scale at which we must consider the evolution of rurality is probably very different from the one at which we model the biological phenomena.

In this context, to develop flexible integrated systemic models (upgradable, modular, ...) which are efficient, realistic and easy to use (for developers, modelers and end users) is a challenge in itself. What mathematical representations and what computational tools to use? Nowadays many tools are used: for example, cellular automata (e.g. in the LEAM model), agent models (e.g. URBANSIM (, system dynamics (e.g. World3), large systems of ordinary equations (e.g. equilibrium models such as TRANUS), and so on. Each of these tools has strengths and weaknesses. Is it necessary to invent other representations? What is the relevant level of modularity? How to get very modular models while keeping them very coherent and easy to calibrate? Is it preferable to use the same modeling tools for the whole system, or can we freely change the representation for each considered subsystem? How to easily and effectively manage different scales? (difficulty appearing in particular during the calibration process). How to get models which automatically adapt to the granularity of the data and which are always numerically stable? (this has also a direct link with the calibration processes and the propagation of uncertainties). How to develop models that can be calibrated with reasonable efforts, consistent with the (human and material) resources of the agencies and consulting firms that use them?

Before describing our research axes, we provide a brief overview of the types of models that we are or will be working with. As for LUTI (Land Use and Transportation Integrated) modeling, we have been using the TRANUS model since the start of our group. It is the most widely used LUTI model, has been developed since 1982 by the company Modelistica, and is distributed via Open Source software. TRANUS proceeds by solving a system of deterministic nonlinear equations and inequalities containing a number of economic parameters (e.g. demand elasticity parameters, location dispersion parameters, etc.). The solution of such a system represents an economic equilibrium between supply and demand.

On the other hand, the scientific domains related to ecosystem services and ecological accounting are much less mature than the one of urban economy from a modelling point of view (as a consequence of our more limited knowledge of the relevant complex processes and/or more limited available data). Nowadays, the community working on ecological accounting develops statistical models based on the enforcement of the mass conservation constraint for accounting for material fluxes through a territorial unit or a supply chain, relying on more or less simple data correlations when the relevant data is missing; the overall modelling makes heavy use of more or less sophisticated linear algebra and constrained optimization techniques. The ecosystem service community has been using statical models too, but is also developing more sophisticated models based for example on system dynamics, multi-agent type simulations or cellular models. In the ESNET project, STEEP has worked in particular on a land use/land cover change (LUCC) modelling environments (Dinamica ( which belongs to the category of spatially explicit statistical models.

In the following, our two main research axes are described, from the point of view of applied mathematical development. The domains of application of this research effort is described in the application section, where some details about the context of each field is given.