Structural Changes of the Technosphere

Research overview

The department studies the long-term structural changes that have led humanity into the Anthropocene. Human societies are linked to the Earth system by temporally variable and locally diverse ecological conditions, material flows, and technical infrastructures that collectively form a distinct Earth sphere: the technosphere. The technosphere is functionally equivalent to other Earth spheres such as the biosphere and forms part of the coupled human-Earth system. The goal of our research is to understand the co-evolutionary system created by the addition of the technosphere to the Earth system.

Our approach:

In close cooperation with the other departments, the department explores the structural change of the technosphere by combining historical perspectives and studies with analysis and modeling of the behavior of complex adaptive systems. Using this approach, the emergence and long-term transformations of the technosphere and its subsystems are studied with a view to the role of thresholds, tipping points, and opportunities for intervention.

Key questions are:

  • How do the different components of the human-earth system interact, how did they co-evolve, and what does this tell us about possible future developments and (unintended) consequences?
  • What can we learn from history about system boundaries, feedback loops, path dependencies, and structural barriers to sustainability in human-Earth system interactions?
  • What kind of knowledge and scientific efforts are needed to adapt the design of the technosphere to the challenges of the Anthropocene? The department works mainly theoretically and on the basis of modeling historical processes.


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