Statistical physics approaches to the complex Earth system

Jingfang Fan, Jun Meng, Josef Ludescher, Xiaosong Chen, Yosef Ashkenazy, Jürgen Kurths, Shlomo Havlin, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Global warming, extreme climate events, earthquakes and their accompanying socioeconomic disasters pose significant risks to humanity. Yet due to the nonlinear feedbacks, multiple interactions and complex structures of the Earth system, the understanding and, in particular, the prediction of such disruptive events represent formidable challenges to both scientific and policy communities. During the past years, the emergence and evolution of Earth system science has attracted much attention and produced new concepts and frameworks. Especially, novel statistical physics and complex networks-based techniques have been developed and implemented to substantially advance our knowledge of the Earth system, including climate extreme events, earthquakes and geological relief features, leading to substantially improved predictive performances. We present here a comprehensive review on the recent scientific progress in the development and application of how combined statistical physics and complex systems science approaches such as critical phenomena, network theory, percolation, tipping points analysis, and entropy can be applied to complex Earth systems. Notably, these integrating tools and approaches provide new insights and perspectives for understanding the dynamics of the Earth systems. The overall aim of this review is to offer readers the knowledge on how statistical physics concepts and theories can be useful in the field of Earth system science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-84
Number of pages84
JournalPhysics Reports
StatePublished - 18 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s)


  • Climate change
  • Complex Earth systems
  • Complex network
  • Earthquake
  • Statistical physics


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