Models in the Geosciences

In Lorenzo Magnani & Tommaso Wayne Bertolotti (eds.), Springer Handbook of Model-Based Science. Springer. pp. 891-911 (2017)
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The geosciences include a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from paleontology to climate science, and involve studies of a vast range of spatial and temporal scales, from the deep-time history of microbial life to the future of a system no less immense and complex than the entire Earth. Modeling is thus a central and indispensable tool across the geosciences. Here, we review both the history and current state of model-based inquiry in the geosciences. Research in these fields makes use of a wide variety of models, such as conceptual, physical, and numerical models, and more specifically cellular automata, artificial neural networks, agent-based models, coupled models, and hierarchical models. We note the increasing demands to incorporate biological and social systems into geoscience modeling, challenging the traditional boundaries of these fields. Understanding and articulating the many different sources of scientific uncertainty – and finding tools and methods to address them – has been at the forefront of most research in geoscience modeling. We discuss not only structuralmodel uncertainties, parameter uncertainties, and solution uncertainties, but also the diverse sources of uncertainty arising from the complex nature of geoscience systems themselves. Without an examination of the geosciences, our philosophies of science and our understanding of the nature of model-based science are incomplete.
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