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Journal Article

The meso scale as a frontier in interdisciplinary modeling of sustainability from local to global scales


Johnson,  Justin Andrew
External Organizations;

Brown,  Molly E.
External Organizations;

Corong,  Erwin
External Organizations;


Dietrich,  Jan Philipp
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Henry,  Roslyn C.
External Organizations;


von Jeetze,  Patrick José
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Leclère,  David
External Organizations;


Popp,  Alexander
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Thakrar,  Sumil K.
External Organizations;

Williams,  David R.
External Organizations;

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Johnson, J. A., Brown, M. E., Corong, E., Dietrich, J. P., Henry, R. C., von Jeetze, P. J., Leclère, D., Popp, A., Thakrar, S. K., Williams, D. R. (2023): The meso scale as a frontier in interdisciplinary modeling of sustainability from local to global scales. - Environmental Research Letters, 18, 2, 025007.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_28176
Achieving sustainable development requires understanding how human behavior and the environment interact across spatial scales. In particular, knowing how to manage tradeoffs between the environment and the economy, or between one spatial scale and another, necessitates a modeling approach that allows these different components to interact. Existing integrated local and global analyses provide key insights, but often fail to capture 'meso-scale' phenomena that operate at scales between the local and the global, leading to erroneous predictions and a constrained scope of analysis. Meso-scale phenomena are difficult to model because of their complexity and computational challenges, where adding additional scales can increase model run-time exponentially. These additions, however, are necessary to make models that include sufficient detail for policy-makers to assess tradeoffs. Here, we synthesize research that explicitly includes meso-scale phenomena and assess where further efforts might be fruitful in improving our predictions and expanding the scope of questions that sustainability science can answer. We emphasize five categories of models relevant to sustainability science, including biophysical models, integrated assessment models, land-use change models, earth-economy models and spatial downscaling models. We outline the technical and methodological challenges present in these areas of research and discuss seven directions for future research that will improve coverage of meso-scale effects. Additionally, we provide a specific worked example that shows the challenges present, and possible solutions, for modeling meso-scale phenomena in integrated earth-economy models.