Identifying causal gateways and mediators in complex spatio-temporal systems

Jakob Runge (Corresponding Author), Vladimir Petoukhov, Jonathan F Donges, Jaroslav Hlinka, Nikola Jajcay, Martin Vejmelka, David Hartman, Norbert Marwan, Milan Palus, Jurgen Kurths

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Identifying regions important for spreading and mediating perturbations is crucial to assess the susceptibilities of spatio-temporal complex systems such as the Earth’s climate to volcanic eruptions, extreme events or geoengineering. Here a data-driven approach is introduced based on a dimension reduction, causal reconstruction, and novel network measures based on causal effect theory that go beyond standard complex network tools by distinguishing direct from indirect pathways. Applied to a data set of atmospheric dynamics, the method identifies several strongly uplifting regions acting as major gateways of perturbations spreading in the atmosphere. Additionally, the method provides a stricter statistical approach to pathways of atmospheric teleconnections, yielding insights into the Pacific–Indian Ocean interaction relevant for monsoonal dynamics. Also for neuroscience or power grids, the novel causal interaction perspective provides a complementary approach to simulations or experiments for understanding the functioning of complex spatio-temporal systems with potential applications in increasing their resilience to shocks or extreme events.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8502
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

J.R. received support by the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung), a Humboldt University Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the German Federal Ministry of Science and Education (Young Investigators Group CoSy-CC2, grant no. 01LN1306A). J.F.D. thanks the Stordalen Foundation and BMBF (project GLUES) for financial support. D.H. has been funded by grant ERC-CZ CORES LL-1201 of the Czech Ministry of Education. M.P. and N.J. received funding from the Czech Science Foundation project No. P303-14-02634S and from the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, project No. DAAD-15-30. J.H. was supported by the Czech Science Foundation project GA13-23940S and Czech Health Research Council project NV15-29835A. We thank Mary Lindsey from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for her
kind help with Fig. 4e. NCEP Reanalysis data provided by NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD,
Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their web site at


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