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Brown M. and Ulgiati S.

(unpublished) : Emergy Assessment

Chapter 1: Systems and Systems Thinking
Chapter Overview:
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
• Describe the general concepts and principles of systems thinking and define:
◦ System
◦ Emergent properties
◦ Reductionism vs. Holism (Systems Approach)
◦ Geobiosphere
◦ Laws of Thermodynamics
◦ Maximum Power Principle
◦ Hierarchy theory
• Identify and use the energy systems language to diagram systems
◦ Sources
◦ Storages
◦ Interactions
◦ Producers
◦ Consumers
◦ Transaction
• Discuss the use of diagrams to communicate ideas and to elucidate hypotheses about
system organization
• Explain how to draw system diagrams from word models

The world in which we live is far too complex for our minds to comprehend all at once, so we
make mental simplifications. These simplified views of the world, which we use to think about
and understand what is going on around us, are often called models. In this book we define a
model as a simplified concept within the human mind by which it visualizes reality. The most
common models are verbal models with which humans share views of themselves and their
environment. These verbal models represent generalizations about reality and are qualitative and
approximate. Many of the decisions about society, environment, and economy, are made as a
result of consensus reached that is based on a shared viewpoint of a simple verbal model. Public
decision-making and environmental policies are usually made with simple verbal models.
However, since verbal models are generalizations and tend not to be precise and are often
misunderstood, we need more concrete ways of thinking and representing systems. We need
systems thinking and more quantitative ways of describing the complexity that surrounds us.

A Systems View

A system is a collection of components that are
A human being is part of the
interrelated in some way. The concept of a system
Whole...He experiences himself, his
is a human construct, a mental image that is used to thoughts and feelings, as something
better understand reality. To create a system the separated from the rest...a kind of
human mind separates some aspect of the world optical delusion of his consciousness.
from the rest by constructing a boundary around it This delusion is a kind of prison for
(often only imaginary). In so doing, everything us, restricting us to our personal
inside the boundary is part of the system and desires and to affection for a few
everything outside the boundary is not. If we persons nearest us. Our task must be
observe a system for a while we might see that to free ourselves from this prison by
some things cross the boundary as “inputs” and widening our circle of compassion to
some things leave the system as “outputs”. If it is a embrace all living creatures and the
whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody
true system, the things that are inside the boundary
is able to achieve this completely, but
interact in some meaningful way, that is to say, the the striving for such achievement is,
interactions are not random and thus there is in itself, a part of the liberation and a
causality. Exchange pathways of matter, energy or foundation for inner security".
information connect components within systems
and as such, the individual actions of components Albert Einstein, 1954, Ideas and
affect others within the system boundary. The Opinions. New York, Crown
magnitude of interactions depends on the strength Publishers.
of the connections between components.

If we were to draw our system, just described, using boxes and arrows it might look like that in
Figure 1-1. Several important features that were not apparent in our verbal description so far are
that: 1) lines that connect components are pathways that represent flows of either material,
energy or information, 2) there is directionality to these pathways; some are forward in their flow
direction (left to right) and some are “fedback” in their flow direction (right to left), 3) inputs
cross the boundary also with directionality from left to right and outputs leave the system
flowing toward the right, and 4) the components themselves are also systems, receiving inputs,
processing them in some way and producing outputs.

What is Systems Thinking?
Systems thinking is a perspective or a way of understanding reality that emphasizes whole
systems and the relationships between system parts rather than the parts themselves. Systems
thinking is a structured way of thinking about the world that is based on the principle that the
components of a system are best understood in the context of their relationships to each other,
rather than in isolation.

It is often said that systems have emergent properties or unexpected behaviors that stem from
interaction between the components of a system and their environment. Another way of
describing an emergent property is, a property which arises from the interaction of "lower-level"

entities and that can not be predicted from a knowledge of the lower-level entities. The first
statement of the concept of emergent properties is attributed to Aristotle in his book Metaphysics
where he said, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”. This statement is a simple way of
thinking about emergent properties and describes the concept of holism. In holistic ways of
thinking the properties of a system cannot be determined or explained by studying the
component parts alone since the system, as a whole, determines how the parts behave.

The opposite of holism is reductionism. In reductionist thinking, systems are decomposed into
their parts, and it is believed that by studying the parts, it is possible to understand the whole
system. Reductionist thinking is how most people think of the world and its complexity,
breaking down the complexity into smaller and smaller pieces in the hopes that if the pieces can
be understood, then the whole can be reconstructed and understanding will emerge. Most of
science is conducted as a reductionist approach.

Reductionist thinking is sometimes called “bottom-up” thinking, since it starts with the pieces
and trys to understand the whole from the pieces up. Holism is sometimes called “top-down”
thinking, since it starts with they whole and searches for understanding of whole systems. Much
of scientific exploration is both holistic and reductionist at the same time.

We do not believe that one approach is better than another, as it depends on what outcome one is
trying to achieve. Most of the advances in science and technology over the past 200 years have
come from reductionist thinking. Reductionism is responsible for most of the information we
have about how the world and its part work, yet is has its limitations, and those are related to the
concept of emergent properties of complex systems. Understanding the very complex issues that
involve humans and their environment can not be done with a reductionist thinking, but instead
must be approached from a systems perspective, which is holistic by definition.

The differences between the reductionist thinking and systems thinking:

Reductionist Approach Systems Approach
Focuses on parts Focuses on wholes
Linear causality A causes B Circular causality A causes B
causes C causes A
Observer status objective Observer status subjective
Context not very relevant Context highly relevant
One 'truth' or best answer Multiple truths and answers
Externalities not important Externalities important

The rate of production of new knowledge and the complexity of that knowledge requires tools to
simplify, unify, and consolidate our understanding. Increasingly it is necessary to synthesize
information, pattern and process of the global complexity into knowable and predictable
behavior. Through systems thinking it is possible to show that the infinite types of systems of

Open systems are those that have inputs from a surrounding environment and outputs to that environment. It does not receive any materials. except in theory. regulating complex system. and transform material. pattern. An ecosystem (short for Ecological System) is a community of organisms (biotic components) and their physical and chemical environment (abiotic components). consume. composed of humans. Interpretation through systems thinking helps to eliminate the overwhelming complexity of the world by classifying systems of many types and functions into a few relatively basic types of processes that produce. ecosystems are characterized by flows and transformations of energy. All systems have some kind of inputs from the surrounding environment that cross their boundaries and have outputs that flow back to their environments. and information. including all its perspective to see events and patterns in a new light and organisms and their inorganic to establish a framework for problem solving. for example families. describes the integrated system of the planet Earth that contains all the living organisms Systems Principles (biosphere) and their One way of aggregating is to use simplifying concepts interrelationships with the geologic systems of the or principles of system organization. processes. In fact the geobiosphere is so complex and composed of so many interacting subsystems that it is nearly impossible to comprehend it as a system at all. self- provide rules for interrelationships between matter. As a creation of the lithosphere. There are social systems. Like all systems. etc. Each subsystem. Systems surroundings are closely principles help to organize the complexity we see and integrated to form a single.the world are actually very similar in their composition. or villages or even countries. The components of a system are systems in and of themselves. It is all around us and we humans are one of many of the subsystems of the geobiosphere. A closed system is the opposite. These include capable of maintaining the conditions for life in the planet. like any system has its own boundaries. Closed systems do not really exist. viewed as a system of interacting and interdependent relationships. Some researchers suggest that there are open and closed systems. and outputs. it is helpful to aggregate the complexity into less complex “models” of the system. James Lovelock human mind used to understand reality. materials and information by the living and nonliving components of The term geobiosphere the system. and behavior. The geobiosphere is the system of the planet Earth and as its name implies. it is composed of geologic and biologic systems. which are composed of smaller systems which are composed of even smaller systems. inputs. energy or information for outside. He termed his hypothesis the “Gaia Hypothesis” . energy and information within systems. these principles suggested that the Earth’s are one of the tools of systems thinking that provide geobiosphere. as well. To handle this complexity and begin to understand the billions and billions of interacting biotic and abiotic components that make up the geobiosphere. which senses temperature and keeps the refrigerator at a constant temperature to ecological systems like a lake with its plants and fish. All systems are comprised of numerous subsystems. energy. Types of Systems There are many types of systems from mechanical systems like a thermostat.

Everything has some energy associated with it. The quantity of useful energy determines the amount of structure that can exist and the speed at which processes can function. thus system components and work processes can be represented by the energy that flows through. the energy principles known as the Laws of Thermodynamics. The Second Law requires some degrading of energy from all processes and from storages of energy or materials that are at concentrations greater than the background environment. is transformed. although it may be rearranged in space and changed into different types of mass. a concept known as self-organization. Many economists believe that the free-market economy is self-organizing. The pattern appears without a central authority or external influence imposing it. Self- organization is an on-going process of adaptation. Available energy Available energy is energy that is capable of doing work.the concept of available energy. and the theory of energetic hierarchy. The First Law is often stated as: Energy cannot be created or destroyed. some of the available energy loses its ability to do work. and stored within. The Second law is often stated as: In all real processes the availability of some potential energy is lost. Since all systems require energy it is a convenient way of describing how systems work. the law of the conservation of mass states that the mass of a system cannot be created or destroyed. which creates patterns or order of system components and relationships solely from interactions among the components of the system. Maximum Power Principle . The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the law of dispersal and requires that in all processes. Thus. or flowing out. Self-organization Self-organization is a process. These principles are believed to apply to all systems and thus provide a basis for understanding. Examples of self-organization in ecology are “herd behavior” schooling of fishes. all the mass of a system must be accounted for as either being stored within. Conservation of Matter Much like the conservation of energy. The process of self-organization occurs in all elements of a system at the same time and without an independent coordinator. Laws of Thermodynamics The First Law of Thermodynamics states that all energy within a system must be accounted for as either being stored within the system or flowing out. a principle know as the maximum power principle. or the flocking of birds. conservation of matter.

reproductives. and maximizing output. A hierarchy is a form of organization resembling a pyramid where each level is subordinate to the one above it. if we were studying the economy of a country. and two in the third hierarchical level (S & T). even fewer high level managers and only one boss. Examples of hierarchically organized systems include companies where there are many workers. material. when possible. that is. Lotka (1922) published several articles and a book titled “Elements of Physical Biology” which indicated that the maximization of power for useful purposes was the criterion for natural selection. the spatial . Odum (1971) the principle states that those systems that prevail in competition with others develop pathways of energy. About 60 years later A.In the mid-19th century Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” which popularized the concept of natural selection. Depending on how one views a hierarchy. The diagram in Figure 1-2 illustrates the concept of a hierarchically organized food chain (or any system for that matter) where energy and materials flow from the bottom of the hierarchy (left side). Finally. Think for instance of an army under the command of several captains and only one general. Later called the maximum power principle by H. and information flows that reinforce obtaining and increasing available energy inflow. when studying some aspect of the world we must consider that it has a specific time and spatial scale. and the king and queen. fewer mid-level managers. Thus we often speak of food chains as hierarchical in organization. In Figure 2 there are five parallel components (A – E) in the first hierarchical level. soldiers. At each hierarchical level there are numerous parallel components. we were to study a population of termites. it is one of the tools of systems thinking that provides a perspective to see events and patterns in a new light. three components (J – L).J. In ecology we consider hierarchical organization to be a group of processes arranged in order of rank or class in which the nature or function at each higher level becomes more broadly embracing than at the lower level. Hierarchy and Systems Hierarchy is a very important concept in systems thinking as it helps to simplify the complexity found in most systems. but small in influence). the spatial scale might be hundreds of hectares and the time scale. Time. so if. Space and Systems Generally. many years (maybe as many as 70 years) to capture all the needed information about village life.T. Feedback flows from higher levels in the hierarchy to lower levels (right to left) are generally information and control actions. On the other hand if we were studying a village of people. to the top of the hierarchy (right side). As a creation of the human mind used to understand reality. or a colony of termites that includes four levels: workers. it can be an organization whose components are arranged in levels from a top level (small in number. but large in influence) down to a bottom level (many in number. components with similar function. the spatial scale of interest would encompass tens of square meters and the time scale necessary to collect data on the population would be on the order of several months or one year. Time and space are related. for instance.

3) the frequency of pulses (events) are generally longer at upper levels and shorter at lower levels. Similar to the saying “One cannot see the forest for the trees. 4) the amplitude (intensity) of pulses is higher in upper levels and smaller at lower levels.” a component of a system does not have the appropriate perspective to understand itself much less the system in which it is embedded. 2) the level above. It is generally accepted that downward causality is stronger (i. upward causality (the effect of lower level processes on upper level processes) has relatively weak impact on upper levels.e. when a queen leaves a termite colony the entire colony is changed radically. which constrains and controls the focal level. and 3) the level below. For instance the actions of one worker termite has little effect on changing the structure or organization of the entire termite colony. We can think of downward causality as the influence of an upper hierarchical level exerting control on a lower level. On the other hand. Systems visualization through diagramming is one way of aggregating complexity into understandable wholes without breaking systems into pieces and trying to build understanding from the bottom up. has greater effect or control) within systems than upward causality. A focal system of interest is driven by the feedbacks from the next larger system as well as the inputs derived from lower level systems. In systems analysis it is common practice to include these three levels in order to understand the system of interest. We feel strongly that one cannot build understanding of . which provides the elements and inputs to the focal level that are needed to explain its behavior. A major consideration when using systems thinking to solve problems or to help make decisions about management of complex systems is the fact that any analysis should consider at least three hierarchical levels: 1) the focal level. or the level of interest. and 5) the size of components is larger at upper levels and smaller at lower levels. since no system can understand itself or more complex systems. The premise that upper levels constrain lower levels explains why “bottom-up” explanations of system organization and behavior are generally incomplete and often not accurate. the way we can approach understanding the complexity around us is to develop simplified models. So.scale would be thousands of kilometers and the time scale would be hundreds of years in order to capture needed information about its growth and development. This relationship is a major characteristic of hierarchy theory which suggests the follow propositions: 1) upper levels in a hierarchically organized system constrain lower levels. Shown in Figure 1-3 are arrows indicating downward and upward causality. but at the same time are simple enough to be understood. The time and space relationships illustrated in Figure 1-3 show a hierarchical structure where large spatial scale is related to long time and short time is related to small spatial scale. For instance. 2) the processes in upper-levels are generally slower than processes at lower levels. which have enough of the characteristics of the original system to resemble reality. A Systems Language A general principle of system thinking is that no system can understand itself.

because it describes the flows and storages of energy. It is always necessary to define exactly what the extent of the system of attention is. it uses the macroscope. Since any system is a somewhat arbitrary construct of the human mind.T. it has rules and syntax. For instance a diagram of an ecosystem might include one hectare of the system including 1 meter deep in the soil and 100 meters into the air above the ground. The Energy Systems Language The energy systems language is top down in its approach. “…one needs a macroscope to see the whole. 1972. and to think about processes. 1976). and information.T. The language adhers to and incorporates the Laws of Thermodynamics. and which can be used to describe systems mathematically. Odum (Brown. Odum (1971) has said. yet extremely important. 1983. Learning the energy systems language is really learning the fundamentals of systems. the symbols when combined in a systems and possible arrangements diagram can be translated into their mathematical meaning governing the ordered use of and used to program a computer simulation model. 1971. The reason we have to be specific about the use of the language is not for arbitrary reasons. Like any language. as H.” In this book we use a systems language developed over a 50-year period by H.complex systems by putting pieces together in the hopes of constructing wholes. economics. including the relationships between components. Given symbols for the formation of next are descriptions of each of the symbols of the energy components of a language systems language. Anything within . but because the symbols and their relationship to each other involve fundamental principles of system organization. structural patterns. advanced student. The language has been described as picture mathematics since each symbol Syntax . the boundary is somewhat arbitrary. In many respects Odum’s systems language is a “macroscope” for it forces one to overview and diagram systems. For the rules. and describes systems based on the inherent energy properties of all systems. The language contains about 12 symbols and there are several general rules about the ways they can be used and put together to describe systems. materials. it is still one major important outcome of visualizing systems.the grammatical has specific energy and mathematical meanings. and information within systems (See Odum. While we do not stress computer simulation in this book and in fact will only briefly refer to dynamics of system simulation. 2004) that is a concise way of visualizing systems. and then to develop computer programs for simulating their dynamic behavior. 1994 and Odum and Odum. The diagrammatic language invented by Odum has been called Energy Systems Language. energy. This imaginary boundary (shown as a frame with rounded corners in our diagrams) represents the boundary that separates the system of interest for outside forces (sources). Simulation of computer models helps us to understand how systems change and how interventions may be used to solve a problem or cause a system to respond in a certain predictable way. Instead. System Boundary A system of interest must have a boundary that separates it from its environment (Figure 1-4).

A flow is called an “inflow if it flows into a system or component. material or information). etc (Figure 1-5). According to the rules of the energy systems language. some available energy. or information. described next). We use the term force in its most general sense to mean a physical force or a chemical concentration that can drive a process. Generally pathways have an arrowhead at their end. A force can either be from outside the system (a source) or driven by a force within the system (a storage. material. and called an “outflow” if it flows out of a system or component. which shows its flow-limited character. energy or information between the two pathways that result. energy. two pathways can merge (be added) if the flows on the pathways carry the same kind of “stuff” (energy. inflowing. It represents a force that drives inflows to the system of interest. of the total sunlight . organisms. money pathways usually end with an arrowhead indicating the direction of flow. Similarly. For example. it is shown as a flow that enters the system boundary but then exits and a portion of the entering flow is extracted for use. Energy Source Symbol The circle is an energy. which most frequently is at the next component. Flows of degraded energy (with no availability) connect each process and storage to the heat sink. Pathway Symbol Energy systems diagrams are networks of components (symbols) connected with pathway lines of energy. material. Flow-Limited Source Symbol A special symbol is used for sunlight. The flow of money is represented by a dashed line (Figure 1-5d).these boundaries is considered part of the ecosystem and anything that crosses the boundary. or information source from outside a system that drives processes (Figure 1-6). people. Pathways connect components showing the flows of energy. Flows are the result of forces that “drive them”. Like energy pathways. or degrade. Heat Sink Symbol The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (law of energy dispersal) requires that all processes and any storage that is more concentrated than the environment will lose. is a source of either energy. material or information flow. materials or information between them. a pathway that splits divides the flowing material. information. Since the flow of sunlight is limited in spatial dimension and is a flowing source rather than a source that can be increased. A pathway line represents the flow of anything: materials. leaving a remainder. We show the degradation of energy using the heat sink symbol at the bottom of system diagrams outside the system boundary (Figure 1-5e).

It represents a store (stock. The diamond symbol connects the flows of money and resources and controls the flows of each by a price (Figure 1-9). or a production function (Figure 1- 8). material or information interact to produce a different product. the outflow from the storage has to be water also. For example. if water flows into a stored quantity of water. Transaction (Exchange) Symbol Generally money and resources flow in opposite directions. Since a storage is a concentration of something. there is a tendency for it to disperse. nutrients. Thus the output from a multiplicative interaction is proportional to the product of the input forces. quantity) of material. where the output is proportional to one flow divided by the other as when a force inhibits the flow of another. for instance division. etc. The rate of change of the quantity in the storage is the balance between rates of inflow and outflow.entering a forest. Money flows to pay for materials. each carrying a different kind of energy. Other times the price can be set by the ratio of the supply to demand. material. a work gate. Sometimes the price is set by an outside market. The first of these is the combination of the storage symbol and the interaction symbol to create autocatalytic production. according to the second energy law. information and money can be storages. Interaction Symbol The interaction symbol. buildings. and the concentration is greater than the material in the environment. Autocatalytic Production . The albedo represents the portion of the entering sunlight that is shown exiting the system (R). dispersal. or depreciation. Therefore a storage tank should have one outflow pathway connecting the storage to the heat sink at the bottom of the system frame. This necessary outflow pathway is sometimes called diffusion. The most common interaction is multiplicative. or information. also called a multiplier. Every flow into or out of the storage must be of the same type energy. All storages have at least one inflow and one outflow. In human dominated system. Other types of interactions may occur. energy or information. Group Symbols Individual symbols are combined in several group symbols that represent slightly more complex functional units. stockpile. energy or information. organic matter and soil. mass. where the inputs are multiplied to produce the output. Storage Symbol The storage symbol resembles a water tank (Figure 1-7). In ecosystems there are many storages such as water. is the symbol for a production process where two or more flows. some is reflected (albedo) and some becomes heat. and some is used in photosynthesis.

services and information. the within a system. and information consumers. The information can be of endogenous or exogenous consumer symbol can be used as an outline symbol. For instance. or agricultural production. etc. including humans. reproducing in proportion to the quantity of plankton biomass and light concentration. and (interaction) and at least one storage of product. interior details are not of interest (Figure 1-12a). The producer usually has a production function and at least one storage of product. energy. information. For example.e. the greater the size of the storage the greater the feedback. nutrients and plant biomass interact to produce more plant biomass (Figure 1-11c) Consumer Symbol The consumer symbol gets its name from the act of Kinetics is the science of consuming a product.) which are used to increase the inflow of resources. or it can be used showing the interior details of production storage and feedback (Figure 1-12b). Autocatalysis is a feedback loop where resources from the storage are fed back to the multiplicative interaction and therefore increase the inflow of resources from a source (Figure 1-10). forests and agriculture) and consumers (humans). The interaction can have more than two inputs such as when sunlight. ingest it converting it to biomass (muscles. materials.) which enable the animal to search out more food. Plants develop leaves and biomass structure that enables them to capture more sunlight. bones. as when an herbivore eats green temporal (when) and spatial plants. energy. Generally the producer symbol is reserved for systems that convert sunlight into photosynthetic production. Actually a consumer not only consumes. while humans consume food and other resources. commerce or industry in the human economy is intermediate between production units (i. The symbol is used for all types of components that (where) distribution patterns get their energy through consumption of exogenous and interactions of materials. Box Symbol The box symbol is used for components that generally don’t fit the idea of producer or consumer (Figure 1-13). they also produce labor. The symbol can be used as an outline symbol. Like the producer symbol. Autocatalysis is a fundamental characteristic of all living organisms and many non-living systems. or information.Autocatalytic production is also know as “self-feeding” or “self-reinforcing”. where the inside details are not shown. The interior . or it can be used with the interior details to provide information about the kinetics of the producer. The feedback is like a pumping action. if the origin. The consumer usually contains a production function materials. So the consumer symbol is always shown with inputs and outputs. Animals search out food. Producer Symbol The producer symbol usually implies a component that has a photosynthetic production function (Figure 1-11). Figure 1-11b shows the autoctalytic structure of the produce unit. buildings. organs. but also produces. etc. All animals are energy. The symbol can be used for an individual plant. for a forest. Economies take in resources and build a storage of assets (machinery. An example is phytoplankton.

energy density is measured beginning with the system frame. the fossil fuels come next with coal being the lowest The easiest way of determining the quality followed by oil and natural gas. while fossil fuels lowest followed by wind. chemical potential sources of energy. where sunlight is the energy and wind energy. materials and information energy of water. and information sources. momentum in that order.. fossil fuels. quality is related to the hierarchical placement of a form Next. forms of energy. renewable and purchased inputs. the sources are arranged outside the of energy along the geobiosphere hierarchy of frame along the left side and top of the energy transformations. Energy Systems Diagrams The first thing that one must do when diagramming a system is list its energy. can be placed in a hierarchical energy chain from the lowest quality. . where quality from sunlight through successive means the number of successive transformations. Of the non- wind. information this concept of energy density does not apply. rain and geothermal energy. The renewable inputs are the surface and rain results from both sunlight lowest in quality. farthest to the left to (like a food chain) from the simplest or lowest the highest quality farthest to the right). The in joules per liter or joules per gram. For instance wind is transformations that were required to generated by differential heating of the Earth’s generate it. rain. can be shown with interior details to make explicit what switching actions occur. outputs. the quality to the most complex. or time. material. like other group symbols. highest quality (information) based on the number of transformations required to produce it. By organizing the one system and that the lowest quality is sources in this way and then arranging the sunlight and than any given form of energy system components in a like manner (i.e. Nutrients ranking of energy sources and system are next. and tidal were generated millions of years ago through productive processes that required sunlight. and even human from outside the system. they can be eliminated and the box used as an outline (Figure 1-13a) Switch Symbol The switch symbol is used where a digital discontinuous action is required (Figure 1-14). which are its driving forces. The sources are sunlight as the lowest quality. The switch symbol. of energy can be thought of as being derived beginning with sunlight. quantity. when describing liquid or solid system components the diagram is drawn. Next the system components are Energy Quality listed (the state variables) and finally the Energy quality is related to energy density. Generally it is used to switch flows on and off in relation to some event. followed by purchased goods.details of the box usually are the same as those also used for producer and consumer symbols (Figure 1-13b). components is to think of the geobiosphere as labor and information. After listing these three classes of Generally. wind. All other forms arranged according to their quality. If the level of detail of processes within the box is not important. When frame identifies the system boundary and comparing many different forms of energy separates system components from the such as sunlight. beginning with frame (Figure 1-15). In these cases.

The lower diagram in Figure 1-16 is a more complete woodland ecosystem model that includes rain. it is often desirable to vary the sizes of components within the system frame to emphasize some components over others. putting a soil compartment low in the diagram (rather than up high) makes intuitive sense to most individuals. the structure and processes of different systems are more easily comprehended since the diagrams follow the same macro- patterns. since we think of soil as being below other components like vegetation and animals. A simple verbal model might be as follows: In a woodland ecosystem. that often. Once drawn. Other inputs such as CO2 and O2 might also be added depending on the question or problem being addressed. the resulting diagrams have striking similarities that might otherwise go overlooked if the simple guidelines are ignored and the placement of sources and components is done randomly. In addition to placement. and a second animal compartment representing carnivores. sunlight is used by trees in photosynthesis as the product of sun and available nutrients (N). when diagramming an ecological system. We have seen. notice that there is no water for the plants and thus our verbal model has ignored this basic source. Also sometimes it makes sense to put components high or low in the frame based on their relative position in the real world. When diagrams are drawn based on these simple guidelines. and including other animals such as carnivores may be important as well. The output of the photosynthetic production is stored as tree biomass (B). a diagram becomes a good check for the completeness of our verbal model. The herbivores use the energy in the food they consume in building their stored biomass (H) and feed some back in autocatalytic production. If the water is important to the question or management issue being asked. and some is eaten by herbivores. while CO2 is placed higher in the diagram since it is most often associated with air.diagrams are less confusing and tend to exhibit hierarchical organization that is intuitive to the viewer. The top diagram in Figure 1-16 is a systems diagram of the verbal model just given. The diagram in Figure 1-17 shows the woodland as a . A More Complex Woodland Diagram Many woodlands are used by humans in commercial enterprises where wood and other products are harvested from the forest and sold. For instance. Wastes (feces and urine) from the herbivores fall to the ground as additional food for decomposers who consume this organic matter breaking it down into available nutrients for plant growth. soil moisture CO2. then it should be added. O2. when the same system is drawn by two different individuals. For instance. Drawing an Energy Systems Diagram A system diagram begins with a verbal model. some of which is fed back to the production process. some falls to the ground (litter) and becomes organic matter which is consumed by decomposers (M).

and labor. There is an “art” to communicating a system and as well as the science necessary for the understanding we draw upon to express processes and components in a systems context clearly. It is both art and science. The question or issue one is interested in exploring dictates what one chooses to show in a diagram. One must be creative and at the same time be quantitative. material and information exchange. Systems diagrams in many respects are hypotheses about how a particular system is organized since we “extract” and aggregate from the real world system components. The first expressions uttered in a Analytic thought Holistic thought new language are often elementary. Interpreting the world around oneself into a verbal model involves holistic thought and at the same time analytic thought because one must think of the whole at the same time as one thinks of the parts. The Left Brain Right Brain energy systems diagramming language is like (usability/analytic) (design/creative) any language. The harvested wood is sold to a market in exchange for money. Notice that there is no storage of money within the forest. and labor used to harvest trees. Figure 1-16a focuses on production. machinery. machinery. Figure 1-16b focuses more on ecosystem interactions and balances of CO2 and O2 while Figure 1-17 focuses on the forestry operation. Summary The complexities of the world and our interest in solving the problems brought on by human impacts on environmental systems require a systems approach.commercial forest operation where there is an input of fuels. The three diagrams in Figures 1-16 and 1-17 illustrate very different perspectives on the forest system. processes and pathways of energy. understanding the relationships between components and processes. the exchanges obviously do not happen within the forest. There is no “right” or “wrong” diagram since each interpretation of the system is an aggregation of details by adding or deleting processes. at the same time one must be intuitive about what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning. components and pathways of interaction depending on the perspective of the viewer and the questions being explored. While it takes logical thought to grasp the complexities of most systems. Diagramming is Part Art and Part Science The act of drawing a systems diagram requires both left and right brain functions. its management of the forest and its impact on wildlife. it takes time to become proficient. consumption and decomposition in the forest. With Logic Intuition time and practice one gets better at speaking Language Creativity and the more diagrams one draws the better Science & Math Art & Music one becomes a drawing them. which is used to pay for fuels. The money is shown “flowing” from the market through the forest to pay for fuels. The first diagrams that one draws are often Left and Right Brain Functions simple and may lack clear meaning. but actually in real life. Systems thinking is the practice . and labor. since the system boundary is the forest ecosystem. machinery.

There are general rules (syntax) that are necessary so that communication about systems is facilitated and diagrams are easily understood by others. which suggests that an intervention in a complex system can create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. which studies the nature of complex systems in nature. Systems Science . so that when a system diagram is drawn. Component . plants and animals. Natural Resource Management endeavors to develop a scientific and technical understanding of natural resources such as land. Unintended consequences are most frequently the result of traditional resource management approaches which focused on the requirements of a select group of individual species. components. soil. . management is undertaken in a disjointed. and information. All too often. society. it is called a source.a naturally occurring or designed sequence of changes of properties or attributes of an object or system. it may be possible to diminish the likelihood of unintended consequences by viewing management within a systems context and widening the perspective of the manager to recognize the interconnections of the broad array of ecological and social drivers. The problem with this approach is the possibility of getting outcomes from interventions that were not intended.g. water) to meet narrow interests. mental models can be translated into diagrams so that the parts and processes of systems can be more readily visualized and ideas about how the world works can be discussed and compared. or a portion of the resource base of a system (e. with a systems approach to NRM. If the driver is external. water. materials. a constituent element of a system.. and science.an artifact that is one of the individual parts of which a composite entity is made up. leaving other important components and processes out. and outcomes. Drivers can be either external or internal to a system. Definition of terms System . Systems thinking and diagramming in the energy systems language gives a higher level understanding to the complexity that surrounds us and facilitates complex problem solving.a parameter that controls the behavior of a system.of thinking in wholes using what has been termed a “top-down approach” instead of thinking of the parts and trying to construct understanding from the bottom-up.a set of entities comprising a whole where each component interacts with or is related to at least one other component and they all serve a common objective. Using energy systems language. Process . We all think with mental models. Driver . Yet. A model is a simplification (aggregation) of the real world used to visualize reality. incremental manner where resources are treated as parts instead of wholes as if dividing the world into parts will make management easier. The energy systems symbols have rigorous mathematical definitions. The energy systems language is composed of a set of symbols and flow lines that represent the flows of energy.the interdisciplinary field of science. with a particular focus on how management affects the resources under question. sometimes called the Law of Unintended Consequences. mathematical equations result that can easily be programmed as computer simulation models to understand dynamic behavior of systems.

P. 2. 3. Think of an ecological system you are familiar with. Academic Press. Wiley.) Univ. Press of Colo. Write down a verbal model of the system. NY.T. How do the diagrams differ? Literature Cited Brown. John Wiley.T. ed. and E. H. McGraw Hill.T. 1983.O. no money changes hands) and a diagram where money is used to exchange goods. NY. such as a pond. M. Ecological Modeling 178:83–100 Odum. Odum. B. CO. Odum. Odum. Share your diagram with others in class and discuss differences and similarities. 1983. 1994. Box 849. H. Niwot. Odum.e. 2. 80544.C. starting with the sources driving photosynthesis and proceeding along the energy “food chain” from producers to consumers.Activities 1. Translate the following verbal model into an energy systems model: A garden that requires sunlight and rain produces food that is consumed by a person who harvests the food and also feeds back services (weeding and cultivation) that increases plant production. H. 1971. (Revised edition of: Systems Ecology. John Wiley. Second Edition. 1976.T. 644 pp. Draw a energy systems diagram of two villages that trade goods through barter (i. 2004.T. New York. Include both herbivores and carnivores in the model. Environment. A picture is worth a thousand words: energy systems language and simulation. Vol. pp... 644 pp. In Systems Analysis and Simulation-in Ecology. Patten. Energy Basis for Man and Nature. Translate your verbal model into an energy systems diagram. Power and Society. 644 pp. Ecological and Ceneral Systems: An Introduction to Systems Ecology. An energy circuit language for ecological and social systems: its physical basis. 336 pp. H. Systems Ecology: An Introduction. 4. Odum. H..T. or a nearby wetland. 1972. 139-211. 336 pp .. Human wastes and plant matter other than food are composted and the soil that is generated by the composting is added to the garden soil.

A simplified box and arrow diagram that illustrates the necessary requirements for a system: a boundary. components. outflow. and meaningful interactions. . inflows.Figure 1-1.

which are consumed by differ types of carnivores and final by the top carnivore. Food chains are good examples where many parallel components such as many species of plants produce food for numerous herbivores. Most systems exhibit hierarchical organization where many small-scale components concentrate energy for fewer and fewer larger scale components in higher levels of the hierarchy.Figure 1-2. .

.Figure 1-3. the temporal scale over which processes occur increases. The relationship between spatial scale and temporal scale. As the spatial scale of a system increases. Each level in the hierarchy is affected more by larger scale processes (downward causality) than by smaller scale processes (upward causality).

. Energy. as inflows. and information that cross the boundary.Figure 1-4. are inputs and flows of energy materials and information that leave the system are outputs. materials. The System boundary defines the system of interest and separates components and processes within the system from the rest of the environment.

The heat sink (e) is used to show energy losses of all processes. A solid line shows pathways of energy. An arrowhead at the end of the flow path indicates direction of flow. materials. a consequence of the2nd Law of Thermodynamics. . The flows of money within systems that include human processes are shown as dashed lines (d). or information flow.Figure 1-5.

The symbol for a source of energy. Sunlight has a special symbol showing that it is a flow- limited source. R Figure 1-6. Most renewable sources are flow limited. . materials or information that cross the system boundary from outside is the circle.

For instance. etc. machinery. The storage symbol is used to represent any quantity of energy. muscle. bones. Sometimes we use the storage symbol to represent nonrenewable energy sources (b) from outside the system of interest. animals are a storage of flesh. chloroplasts.Figure 1-7. . All components within systems have a storage. hair. Cities contain many storages. etc. etc. carbohydrates. material or information that is “stored” within a system. roads. of buildings. vegetation is a storage of biomass composed of cellulose.

. The interaction can have any math function such as division (c).Figure 1-8. The interaction symbol is used for all production processes. The most general production is multiplicative where the output from the processes is product of the two input forces (a). Most processes are the products of more than two input forces (b).

Figure 1-9. or information (a). It can also be used barter systems when resources are traded directly without money exchange (b). The transaction symbol is used when money is exchanged for energy. . materials.

Autocatalytic production is a fundamental process of all systems that grow. The feedback is self-reinforcing in that as the storage gets larger there is greater force t oincrease the inflow from the source. . The autocatalytic module is composed of a storage (Q) and an interaction.Figure 1-10.

In (b) the storage of biomass and the autocatalytic production. whole forests. The producer symbol is used for any component that produces photosynthetically. nutrients and the plant biomass. It can be used to represent individual plants. (c) shows the autocatalytic production as the multiplicative interaction of sunlight. which is the interaction of sunlight with the biomass is shown. . agriculture crops or natural ecosystems like wetlands or savannahs. When the level of detail within the symbol is not important the general symbol in (a) is used.Figure 1-11.

. When the interior details are not important the symbol can be used without showing them (a). While named a consumer symbol. the component actually produces its own storage through autocatalytic production and exports products or services the surrounding system.Figure 1-12. The consumer symbol is used for all types of components that get their energy through consumption of exogenous materials and or energy.

the box can be used without showing the interior details (a) or showing the production process and storages of assets (b). . The box symbol is a general symbol for components that don’t fit the producer or consumer symbols like industry and commerce in human dominated systems.Figure 1-13. Like the produce and consumer symbols.

For instance. if S1 is above a certain threshold the switch on flow F1 is turned on and if below a certain threshold it is turned off. The switch symbol is used to show a switching action where the flow S1 turns flow F1 off and on depending on conditions of S1. .Figure 1-14. S1 may be sensing the level of a storage or flow and either turn on or off the flow F1 depending on the logic of the switching action.

Lowest quality sources are on the left and higher quality toward the top and right.Figure 1-15. components within the system frame are also arranged according to their quality from left to right. . Likewise. The arrangement of sources and components within systems diagram according to their quality.

ET=evapotranspiration). . organic matter. the system is aggregated to show the trees. a) b) Figure 1-16. Energy system diagram of a woodland ecosystem. N= nutrients. In (b) more sources are included as well as more detail within the woodland showing more components and pathways of energy and materials. and herbivores. In (a). (B = biomass. M = microbes.

Systems diagram of a commercial woodland operation showing tree harvest and sale and the flows of money payments for fuels. Notice also the impact of the woodland operation on wildlife resulting in a loss of biodiversity . which includes the planting and management of trees in preparation of harvesting. and labor. Notice the management feedback from the woodland operation to the trees.Figure 1-17. machinery.