So far the scientific community has taken two different paths. Scientists in this field either tend to develop multi-processing, complex models with an ultra-high resolution both temporally and spatially that are extremely complex and simulate a clearly too accurate forecast. Alternatively, they use over-simplified conceptual models, which have been adapted to specific regions, ecosystems or species communities and cannot therefore easily be transferred to other environmental systems or regions.
Scientists in the thematic field "smart models and monitoring" on the other hand have adopted a completely new approach. They have developed a hydrological modelling system based on the knowledge that large-scale phenomena such as the regional flow of a catchment area does not necessarily depend on all of the small-scale characteristics of this catchment area.
Investigation-, monitoring- and measuring campaigns must be driven from the model approach and the question we wish to answer.
Hence, it follows that a model can be made much simpler without losing its predictive power. This characteristic is referred to as the self-averaging property. The model has an optimal degree of complexity, is practical and can be transferred to other regions. These kinds of models are called "smart models". If the UFZ intends to keep following the smart model path, then data sets that are already available from various sources need to be prepared in such a way and undergo quality control to ensure that they are suitable to answer the respective question.
The same applies, if data are missing: investigation -, monitoring- and measuring campaigns must be driven by the model approach and the question that we wish to answer (goal orientation). In order to be able to uniformly and mathematically describe biotic and abiotic environmental systems, gaps need to be closed in the formulation of theories and scaling methods that work in theoretical hydrology must be fine-tuned for more complex environmental systems.
The UFZ develops smart models for three major areas: for terrestrial hydrology, for terrestrial and aquatic ecology and for geo-systems. Regional catchment models are being developed for hydrology, which help to conduct monitoring and measuring campaigns in a more goal-oriented manner or to optimise the management of water resources with better projections. Thereby scientists want to make the leap from complexity-reduced hydrological models to complexity-reduced ecosystem and matter flux models on regional scales.
In ecology the goal is to develop a common theoretical fundament for describing environmental systems by sufficiently incorporating biotic and abiotic factors,, processes and feedbacks. With this fundament ‒ the core of a new generation of more regional, more integrated, "smarter" environmental system models, it should be possible to mathematically describe and project ecosystem processes on the landscape level and at the same time reliably project them for the future.
In the field of geothermics THMC-modelling is implemented using strongly interlinked processes (thermal, hydraulic, mechanical and chemical) in order to analyse multi-physical processes in complex natural and technical energy systems.