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Model diagram elements : Compartment


How to add a Compartment symbol

See Adding node-type elements. Note that you can add a compartment on top of a cloud, in which case the cloud becomes a compartment.


The compartment symbol is used to represent a quantitative state variable. Notionally, we think of a compartment as containing an amount of some substance, though it can be used in other situations where we want to represent the concept of state.

The informal interpretation of a compartment in System Dynamics modelling is that it represents a real, physical compartment that can contain some substance, just like a tank holds water. The compartment requires to be given an initial value - how much water does the tank hold at the start of the simulation? - and we need to construct flows in and out of the compartment so that the amount it holds can change over time.

This interpretation is fine to begin with, but must not be taken too literally. A compartment in System Dynamics modelling is, mathematically-speaking, a state variable: i.e. it is a variable whose behaviour is described by a differential (or difference) equation. And, unlike real, physical compartments, a compartment in System Dynamics:

  • can go negative (if the flows out are greater than the flows in, when the compartment gets to zero);
  • has infinite capacity (can go on increasing indefinitely);
  • cannot contain multiple substances. A real tank can contain both water and oil, but in System Dynamics modelling we would need a separate compartment for each one. However Simile allows a compartment to be an array with the dimensions of an enumerated type -- this could be used to model a single tank containing multiple substances.
  • can represent some state that does not correspond to the amount of a substance (such as the height of a tree, the area of land, the time when some event happened, or the x co-ordinate of a moving object).


  • You should not draw an influence arrow to a compartment, except for the special case of initialising it from other model variables. The behaviour of a compartment is determined solely by the net flows in and out of it. Its value at any point of time is found by incrementing or decrementing its value from the previous time step with the net inflow. But when you draw an influence arrow to a model element, you are saying that its value is calculated directly from the influencing variable, and that is incompatible with an approach base on adding or subtracting something from its previous value.
  • If you do draw one or more influence arrows to a compartment to initialise it in terms of other model variables, then those variables should be static (i.e. not time-varying).
  • If two compartments are connected by a flow arrow, then the two compartments should represent the same substance, and should have the same units.

In : Contents >> Graphical Modelling >> System Dynamics