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SYSC 410/510: Environmental Systems Modeling & Simulation


Wayne Wakeland

Broad Course Trajectory:

An overview of computer modeling & simulation approaches for studying complex systems with emphasis on the environment. Gives an overview of statistical and simulation-based approaches for simulating dynamics, Monte Carlo methods for addressing uncertainty and risk, and interacting agents to incorporate heterogeneity and network effects. Software and programming environments explored include R, Stella, and Netlogo. The popular computer game Minecraft will be utilized to introduce complex systems and simulation concepts.

Click here to see a Course Flyer.


Basic probability & statistics and exposure to calculus required; exposure to computer programming/scripting concepts helpful.

Course Objectives

  • To grasp the fundamental systems concepts most relevant to investigation of environmental issues (ideally achieved through collaborative learning)
  • To attain a high level of facility in at least one of the software/programming environments explored in the course, and a rudimentary knowledge of all of them (again, collaborate!)
  • To employ a problem-based learning model to substantively “address” a complex environmental systems problem
  • To become comfortable using systems thought, simulation concepts, and analytical approaches to discussing and evaluating real-world phenomena


Ford, Andrew. Modeling the Environment. 2nd Ed. Island Press, 2010. ISBN 1597264725/1597264733.

Heppenstall, Alison, Andrew Crooks, Linda See and Mike Batty, eds. Agent-Based Models of Geographical Systems. Springer, 2011. Full “sample” document available at:

Robert, Christian P. and George Casella. Introducing Monte Carlo methods In R. Springer-Verlag, 2009. Notes available at

Van den Belt, Marjan and Thomas Dietz. Mediated Modeling: A Systems Dynamics Approach To Environmental Consensus Building. Island Press, 2004. ISBN 159726900X/9781597269001.

NetLogo Dictionary & Programming Guide

Grading Components:


  • Web discussions regarding each of the tools 15 points
  • Mini-Project (w/Tool 1) 15 points
  • Primary Project & Presentation (w/Tool 2) 30 points
  • Review Packet/Take-Home Exam 20 points
  • Final Exam 20 points


WEEK1 – INTRO to Stella & Minecraft


WEEK2 – INTRO to R & NetLogo (Modelling Commons)

WEEK3 – Mathematical Tools (R-squared, MonteCarlo, network concepts, SIR/diffusion)

WEEK4 – Mini Projects due. Short presentations from those who choose to present.

WEEK5 – Stella & Calculus

WEEK6 – Minecraft & Systems Concepts: Feedback, Emergence, Cellular Automata, Built Environments

WEEK7 – Advanced NetLogo/ NetLogo & GIS

WEEK8 – Addressing Variability/Uncertainty; Using R for Monte Carlo Simulation

WEEK9 – Review

WEEK10 & Exam Meeting Time – Final Projects & Presentations