Modelling Environmental Systems


At the end of the course, students will have developed the following knowledge, skills and competences:

-        Know the principles and systemic approaches for modelling of environmental systems;

-        Understand the fundamentals of systems thinking and system dynamics modelling;

-        Know how to define a problem in dynamic terms;

-        Capacity to develop dynamic hypotheses and build conceptual models for environmental problems;

-        Capacity to use system dynamics software and computer-based tools for the analysis of environmental systems;

-        Know seminal models for the analysis of typical behavior patterns in environmental systems;

-        Be able to formulate model-based environmental policies and evaluation simulation scenarios;

-        Understand the efficacy of different strategies for intervening in environmental systems;

-        Capacity to analyze data and define modelling strategies for the analysis of environmental problems in a context of complexity and uncertainty;

Capacity to communicate model-based insights effectively.

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Nuno Miguel Ribeiro Videira Costa


Weekly - 4

Total - Available soon

Teaching language





Reading list includes selections from:

Bossel, H. (2007). Systems Zoo 2. Simulation models – climate, ecosystems, resources. Books on Demand.

Ford, A. (2010). Modeling the Environment. 2nd Edition. Island Press. 

Sterman, J. (2000). Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World. McGraw-Hill.

Meadows, D.H. (2008). Thinking in systems: a primer. Wright, D. (Ed.). Chelsea Green Publishing. 

Voinov, A. (2008). Systems science and modelling for Ecological Economics. Academic Press.

Several academic journal articles.

Teaching method

Available soon

Evaluation method

Available soon

Subject matter

Thinking in systems: perspective and fundamental concepts

Defining dynamic problems: behaviour-over-time graphs; behaviour modes in socio-ecological systems

Model conceptualization tools I: causal loop diagrams and system archetypes

Model conceptualization tools II: stock-and-flow diagrams, introduction to system dynamics modelling software

Dynamics of environmental systems: first-order systems (equilibrium, growth and goal-seeking dynamics), second-order systems (oscillations and overshoot dynamics), co-flows and aging chains

Model verification and validation: structure and behaviour tests, sensitivity analysis, model documentation

Policy design and evaluation: formulating policies and model-based simulation scenarios

Policy levers: places to intervene in systems

Dynamic modelling based on verbal descriptions, agent-based models and machine learning models  

Communicating model insights and interface development


Programs where the course is taught: