This paper considers the problem of estimating the strengths of two time-varying heat sources simultaneously, from measurements of the temperature inside the square domain in a porous medium, when prior knowledge of the source functions is not available. This problem is an inverse natural convection problem. In order to circumvent this problem, we define several optimization criteria (objective functionals) that measure discrepancies between model and measured data, where objective functionals depend on two heat sources and use multi-criteria optimization to identify Nash equilibria, which are solutions to the non-cooperative game according to game theory. Two non-cooperative game strategies are considered: competitive (Nash) game and hierarchical (modified Stackelberg) game. The methodology that we employ relies on a combination of mixed finite element space approximations, finite difference time discretizations, adjoint equation and sensitivity equation techniques, and nonlinear conjugate gradient algorithms for the solutions of estimating two heat sources. Applying the Sobolev gradient for the noise removal is investigated. The performance of the present technique of inverse analysis is evaluated, by means of several numerical experiments, and is found to be very accurate as well as efficient. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.