Donges studies planetary boundaries in the Earth system from a complex dynamical system's perspective. He is particularly interested in developing a hierarchy of modelling approaches, from conceptual to full complexity models, for understanding the planetary co-evolutionary dynamics of human societies and their geophysical-biological environment. He aims at a system theoretical mapping of co-evolution space including the characterization of attractors, basin boundaries, inaccessible domains, critical transitions, and stability.
His major research themes are: to understand social tipping elements for sustainability transformation; identify stable and desirable coevolutionary pathways under prescribed sustainability paradigms; trace planetary boundaries and their interactions; test and compare different modelling approaches towards more detailed and spatially explicit models; and validate models against historical co-evolutionary trajectories, such as 20th century great acceleration. To this end, Donges combines methods and insights from complex systems theory, adaptive coevolutionary networks, control theory, agent-based models and game theory with well-established physical, biogeochemical, and economical knowledge.
Donges holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany and a diploma degree in Physics (MSc equivalent) from the University of Potsdam, Germany. Before coming to SRC, he studied physics, mathematics, environmental science, and oceanography at the University of Potsdam, Germany; University of California San Diego, USA; Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, USA and University of Bonn, Germany. He has also spent time in the field conducting paleoclimatological and speleological research in Meghalaya, North-East India.
Donges' published research includes work on complex network theory, dynamical systems theory and time series analysis with a focus on applications to understanding past and present climate variability and its interactions with human kind on planet Earth.
Donges is currently co-funded by the Stordalen Foundation via the Planetary Boundary Research Network and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research (PIK) via the Earth League's EarthDoc network. At PIK, he heads the flagship project COPAN together with Jobst Heitzig from PIK's research domain "Transdisciplinary concepts and methods". Donges has co-organized two high-level workshops in the ongoing LOOPS series on “Closing the loop – Towards co-evolutionary modeling of global society-environment interactions” (Kloster Chorin, Germany, 2014) and “From limits to growth to planetary boundaries: Defining the safe and just space for humanity” (Southampton, UK, 2015) and serves as co-editor for a special issue on these topics in the journal Earth System Dynamics.
Awards and achievements:
Research news | 2020-06-16
Caring for the future can spur long-term collective action but the severity of a perceived threat is what will eventually determine whether action will be taken
Research news | 2020-04-03
Study shows one third of cases erupt within seven days. Countries with political exclusion, low human development and large populations most vulnerable
Research news | 2020-02-17
Trying to reach the goals under current business-as-usual will come at a heavy price on the planetary boundaries
Research news | 2020-01-22
Changes in opinions and behaviour can trigger a global sustainability transformation
2020 - Journal / article
Achieving a rapid global decarbonization to stabilize the climate critically depends on activating contagious and fast-spreading processes of social and technological change within the next few years. Drawing on expert elicitation, an expert workshop, and a review of literature, which provides a comprehensive analysis on this topic, we propose concrete interventions to induce positive social tipping dynamics and a rapid global...
2020 - Journal / article
Climate-related disasters are among the most societally disruptive impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Their potential impact on the risk of armed conflict is heavily debated in the context of the security implications of climate change. Yet, evidence for such climate-conflict-disaster links remains limited and contested. One reason for this is that existing studies do not triangulate insights from different methods and p...
2019 - Journal / article
In the last decade, there has been a growing body of literature addressing the utilization of complex network methods for the characterization of dynamical systems based on time series. While both nonlinear time series analysis and complex network theory are widely considered to be established fields of complex systems sciences with strong links to nonlinear dynamics and statistical physics, the thorough combination of both a...
2019 - Journal / article
Reinforcement learning in multiagent systems has been studied in the fields of economic game theory, artificial intelligence and statistical physics by developing an analytical understanding of the learning dynamics (often in relation to the replicator dynamics of evolutionary game theory). However, the majority of these analytical studies focuses on repeated normal form games, which only have a single environmental state. Env...