Modeling Not By the Numbers

by Anthony M. Starfield, Prof.; Dept. of Civil & Mineral Engrg., Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455,
Richard H. Taylor, Regional Scientist; Underground Space Ctr., Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN,
Lester S. Shen, Research Assoc.; Underground Space Center, Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1990, Vol. 60, Issue 7, Pg. 56-59

Document Type: Feature article


A model is likely to be the tool for making predictions of the ecological impact of an engineering decision. However, ecologists often find it difficult under pressures of time and lack of data, to build useful conventional system models that relate purposefully to engineering decisions. Starfield, Taylor and Shen describe an attempt to build a qualitative, rule-based model of the impact of water level and salinity on the biota of Lake St. Lucia, a shallow estuarine lake in southern Africa. The article shows how a qualitative approach helped ecologists overcome their difficulties to construct a meaningful model and how the model managed to capture the dynamics of the system and revealed unanticipated results. Finally, the article discusses the advantages of this form of modeling in terms of communications between ecologists and engineers.

Subject Headings: Ecosystems | Salt water | Lakes | Decision support systems | Computing in civil engineering | Systems engineering | Hydrologic models | Water level | Africa

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