What's The Deal With Human Migration?

By Dr. Rachata Muneepeerakul, July 24, 2018

You hear about migration a lot on the news these days; it’s happening around the world. This is an important problem with far-reaching consequences. In this project, we aim to develop a modeling framework that integrates existing migration theories and use it to further develop an integrative theory of the interplay between human migration and environmental changes. While we will focus on the linkage between human migration and environmental forcing, the other forces—economic, political, and social—are of course at play; and these are notoriously difficult to capture in a model. All of these elements make this project both daunting and exciting to work on!

We have assembled the team of researchers from three universities—the University of Florida, Columbia University, and East Carolina University—with complementary expertise: migration, dynamical system modeling, multilayer network approaches, social network analysis, hydrological and climate modeling, Bayesian inference, and global sensitivity analysis. There will also be several postdoctoral research associates and Ph.D. students across these institutions and disciplines involved in this project. So, I think we are prepared!

Our plan is to first explore existing migration data to develop the preliminary modeling framework and theory and will then determine if additional data need to be collected. Specifically, we will start by analyzing four case studies: (i) Hurricane Mitch and the development of Honduran-U.S. Migration patterns; (ii) Hurricane María and Puerto Rican migration to Florida; (iii) Famine-induced migration in Africa; and (iv) Syrian refugee crisis. These case studies cover different types of drivers—sudden shocks and gradual changes—as well as different time scales. Exploring a wide range of case studies such as these would help clarify what migration theories are important/valid under what circumstances. These findings will feed into the development of an integrative theory. In addition, we will be holding annual workshops in which experts on migration theories, environmental modeling, and other related fields are invited to provide feedbacks and constructive criticism on our model and theory development. With all of these efforts, we hope that the project will ultimately produce a modeling framework that has predictive power with satisfactory precision and is flexible enough to accommodate different theories (and therefore applicable to a wide range of cases) as well as an integrative theory of migration and environmental change.

The project is funded for five years by a grant from the Department of Defense MURI program. ABE researchers involved in this project include Dr. Rachata Muneepeerakul and Dr. Rafael Muñoz-Carpena.