Discontinuity waves as tipping points: applications to biological & sociological systems. (English) Zbl 1304.35413

Summary: The ‘tipping point’ phenomenon is discussed as a mathematical object, and related to the behaviour of nonlinear discontinuity waves in the dynamics of topical sociological and biological problems. The theory of such waves is applied to two illustrative systems in particular: a crowd-continuum model of pedestrian (or traffic) flow; and an hyperbolic reaction-diffusion model for the spread of the hantavirus infection (a disease carried by rodents). In the former, we analyse propagating acceleration waves, demonstrating how blow-up of the wave amplitude might indicate formation of a ‘human-shock’, that is, a ‘tipping point’ transition between safe pedestrian flow, and a state of overcrowding. While in the latter, we examine how travelling waves (of both acceleration and shock type) can be used to describe the advance of a hantavirus infection-front. Results from our investigation of crowd models also apply to equivalent descriptions of traffic flow, a context in which acceleration wave blow-up can be interpreted as emergence of the ‘phantom congestion’ phenomenon, and ‘stop-start’ traffic motion obeys a form of wave propagation.


35L60 First-order nonlinear hyperbolic equations
35K57 Reaction-diffusion equations
35L67 Shocks and singularities for hyperbolic equations
92D30 Epidemiology
90B20 Traffic problems in operations research
Full Text: DOI


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