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 | 2020-01-22
Changes in opinions and behaviour can trigger a global sustainability transformation
Research news | 2019-07-25
Ten years after the original publication of the Planetary Boundaries concept, researchers makes an in-depth analysis of academic research and discussion generated by the concept
Research news | 2018-06-26
Profit-maximizing approaches are most likely to produce outcomes that harm people or the environment. But it depends on the circumstances whether a sustainable or a safe approach is most suitable, new study argues
Research news | 2017-09-24
Why it is high time for a more people-centred paradigm in Earth System science to better study the challenges of the Anthropocene
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...
2019 - Journal / article
Background : The Planetary Boundaries concept (PBc) has emerged as a key global sustainability concept in international sustainable development arenas. Initially presented as an agenda for global sustainability research, it now shows potential for sustainability governance. We use the fact that it is widely cited in scientific literature (>3500 citations) and an extensively studied concept to analyse how it has been used and...
2018 - Journal / article
We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years a...