Socio-Ecological Systems and Sustainability



Instructor: Talha Manzoor, Centre for Water Informatics & Technology (WIT)


Office: 9-219, Maxwell Wing, 2nd Floor, SBASSE Building

TA: Ansir Ilyas


Office: 9-257. Tesla Wing, 2nd Floor, SBASSE Building 

Course Description

This course is aimed towards students interested in working on environmental problems, especially on problems where environmental phenomena overlap with societal and technological processes. In the course, a systems-based approach will be adopted to study socio-ecological systems. The concept of a system will be introduced, followed by different theoretical frameworks commonly used to study such systems. Modern notions of sustainability will be discussed along with their implications. Finally, the complex linkages between water, energy and food flows in socio-ecological systems will be studied as a systems analysis case study. 

Course Details


  • Year: 2020-21
  • Semester: Spring
  • Open for Student Categories: Juniors (SCI-302 only), Seniors, Graduates
  • Credits Hours: 3
  • Lecture Timings: Mon, Wed 5:00 - 6:15 PM


  • SCI-302 (Junior and Senior Students): Differential Equations and Linear Algebra
  • EE-5612 (Senior Students): Feedback Control Systems
  • Graduate Students: None


  • (Perman) “Natural Resource and Environmental Economics” (4th edition) by Perman, Ma, Common, Maddison & McGilvray.
  • (Easley) “Networks, Crowds and Markets: Reasoning about a highly connected world” by Easley and Kleinberg.
  • (Sterman) “Business Dynamics: Systems thinking and modeling for a complex world” by Sterman
  • (Meadows) “Thinking in Systems” by Donella Meadows

Course Delivery

Lectures are taken in the form of live online sessions on zoom. Recordings of the sessions can be accessed here.

Lecture Breakdown




Week 1

Jan 18

Lecture 1 - Introduction: (video) The definition of a system; Socio-ecological systems; What is systems analysis? What is sustainability? An overview of the course.

Lecture 2 - Complex Systems & Feedback: (video) Unintended consequences in complex systems; Analysis and synthesis; Feedback; Revisiting complex systems, Jevon's Paradox

Meadows Ch 1

Week 2

Jan 25

Lecture 3 - Natural Resource Systems: (video) Cowboy vs spaceship economy; Limits to growth; Themes of resource governance; The tragedy of the commons;

Lecture 4 - Technology and the Environment: (video) A typology of natural resources; Cooperative solutions to the Commons dilemma; Technical intervention & the environment; Introduction to Cybernetics; Human in the loop control; CPS and CPSS; The cybernetic picture of natural resource governance.

Perman Ch 1.1, Ch 1.2, Ch 2.4


Week 3

Feb 1

Lecture 5 - Constructing Causal Loop Diagrams: (video) Causal diagram notation; link polarity; Good practices in CLD construction

Lecture 6 - Analyzing Causal Loop Diagrams: (video) Policy resistance and compensating feedback; Workload management; Polisy resistance in a model of traffic congestion 

Sterman Ch 5

Week 4

Feb 8

Lecture 7 - Stocks and Flows: (video) Identifying stocks and flows; Incorporating stocks and flows in CLDs; Auxiliary variables; A socio-hydrological model of irrigation

Lecture 8 - Contructing Models of Complex Phenomena: (video) A stock and flow model of global climate change; Vensim, a system dynamics software; Constructing a population growth model in Vensim

 Sterman Ch 6, Ch 7

Week 5

Feb 15

Lecture 9 - Population dynamics: (video) Density independent population dynamics; Visualizing and understanding the solution space; Isoclines and integral curves; Density dependent population dynamics; Introduction to logistic growth

Lecture 10 - Biological growth models: (video) Proportionate logistic growth and harvesting functions; Sustainable harvesting; Inter-species interactions; 2 species Lotka Volterra dynamics; Fixed points and stability in the phase space; Extensions of predator prey dynamics  


Week 6

Feb 22

Lecture 11 - Open access fisheries: (video) Economic sub-model of open access harvesting; Stock-harvest and yield-effort relationships; Bio-economic equilibrium in an open access fishery; comparative statics 

Lecture 12 - Bifurcation and the static private-property fishery: (video) Introduction to bifurcations; bifurcation in a model of competing species; introduction to the static private propoerty fishery; Bio-economic equilibrium and comparison with open-access behavior

Perman Ch 17.1-17.4, Ch 17.8

Week 7

Mar 1

Lecture 13 - Present value maximisation: (video) The present-value optimization problem; the rationale of discounting; Complexities in optimization problems; Necessary conditions and the Hamiltonian system for PV maximizing fishery; Bio-economic equilibrium and comparison with open-access and static-private property behavior

Lecture 14 - Sustainability in Dynamical Systems: (video) The different dimensions of sustainability; Stability and sustainability; Oscillations and boom-bust cycles; Invariance conditions; Optimal growth problems

Perman Ch 17.8.3, Ch 17.9

Week 8

Mar 8

Lecture 15 - Course Mid-review: (video)

Midterm Examination


Week 9

Mar 15

Lecture 16 - Introduction to Game Theory: (video) Strategic interactions in real-worl scenarios; Ingredients of a game; Reasoning about behavior in a game; Dominant strategies and Pareto efficiency; The prisoners dilemma; Rationality vs optimality; 

Lecture 17 - Reasoning in Games: (video) Games with no dominant strategy; Best response strategies; Nash equilibrium; The pollution abatement game; Non-cooperative solutions and free riding; Side payments and effect on game structure 

Easley Ch 6.1-6.6

Perman Ch 9.1

Week 10

Mar 22

Lecture 18 - Environmental Games: (video) Free-riding, side payments and binding agreements; The pollution abatement game as an instance of prisonser's dilemma, chicken game and assurance game; Games with multiple players; Pollution abatement with 10 countries; Analyzing different payoff structures

Lecture 19 - Games with continuous stategies: (video) The continuous pollution abatement game; Payoff and best response functions; Finding the Nash equilibrium; Non-cooperative and cooperative solutions to the continuous abatement game; the efficiency gain of cooperation

Perman Ch 9.1

Week 11

Mar 29

Lecture 20 - Game theory and resource consumption: (video) The groundwater game; cooperation and penalties; Anti-coordination games in water resource conflicts; Evolution of the game structure; A game theoretic model of resource consumption; 

Lecture 21 - Introduction to networks: (video) Why do networks matter in environmental problems; Related applications of network science; Fundamentals of Graphs; The small-world phenomenon


Madani 2010

Manzoor 2016

Easley Ch 2

Week 12

April 5

Lecture 22 - Centrality in networks: (video) Node degree and degree distributions; Distributions in random networks; Long tails and scale-free networks; Identifying central nodes in a network; Degree centrality; Eigenvector centrality; Betweenness centrality

Lecture 23 - Sustainability in ecological networks: (video) Introduction to foodwebs; formalisms of sustainability in ecology; Entropy as a measure of indeterminacy; Capacity, acsendency and reserve; Network robustness and sustainability; 

Ulanowicz 2009

Week 13

April 12

Project presentations and term paper submission 

Lecture 24 - Decision making though dynamic programming models: (video) Linear oprimization problems; A two-crop example; Constraint formulation; Identifying the feasible set; Graphical solution to the minimum cost problem in 2 dimensional space; Formulation and tools for higher dimensional problems


Week 14

April 19

Lecture 25 - WEF Nexus: Multiple model integration: (video) The water-energy-food nexus; The MESSAGE energy supply model framework; Modularized approach to linking sectoral models; The NExus Solutions Tool (NEST); Scenario development; Typical model outputs and interpretation of results;    

Lecture 26 - Final course review: (video)


Week 15

April 26

Dead week and review period 

Week 16

May 3

Final Examination