Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Choices Matter, but How Do We Model Them?

Friday, December 15, 2017 - 14:25
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Quantifying interactions between social systems and the physical environment we live within has long been a major scientific challenge. Humans have had such a large influence on our environment that it is no longer reasonable to consider the behavior of an ecological or hydrological system from a purely ‘physical’ perspective: imagining a system that excludes the influence of human choices and behavior. Understanding the role that human social choices play in the energy water nexus is crucial for developing accurate models in that space. The relatively new field of socio-hydrology is making progress towards understanding the role humans play in hydrological systems. While this fact is now widely recognized across the many academic fields that study water systems, we have yet to develop a coherent set of theories for how to model the behavior of these complex and highly interdependent socio-hydrological systems. How should we conceptualize hydrological systems as socio-ecological systems (i.e. system with variables, states, parameters, actors who can control certain variables and a sense of the desirability of states) within which the rigorous study of feedbacks becomes possible? This talk reviews the state of knowledge of how social decisions around water consumption, allocation, and transport influence and are influenced by the physical hydrology that water also moves within. We cover recent papers in socio-hydrology, engineering, water law, and institutional analysis. There have been several calls within socio-hydrology to model human social behavior endogenously along with the hydrology. These improvements are needed across a range of spatial and temporal scales. We suggest two potential strategies for coupled models that allow endogenous water consumption behavior: a social first model which looks for empirical relationships between water consumption and allocation choices and the hydrological state, and a hydrology first model in which we look for regularities in how water regimes influence behavior, regional economies, or allocation institutions.

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