On the social dynamics of moisture recycling

Author(s): Keys, P. W., L. Wang-Erlandsson
In: Earth System Dynamics Discussions doi:10.5194/esd-2017-120
Year: 2018
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Landscapes
Link to centre authors: Wang Erlandsson, Lan
Full reference: Keys, P. W., L. Wang-Erlandsson. 2018. On the social dynamics of moisture recycling. Earth System Dynamics Discussions doi:10.5194/esd-2017-120.

Summary

The biophysical phenomenon of terrestrial moisture recycling connects distant regions via the atmospheric branch of the water cycle. This process, whereby the land surface mediates evaporation to the atmosphere and the precipitation that falls downwind, is increasingly well-understood. However, recent studies highlight a need to consider an important and often missing dimension – the social. Here, we explore the social dynamics of three case study countries with strong terrestrial moisture recycling: Mongolia, Niger, and Bolivia. We first use the WAM-2layers moisture tracking scheme and ERA-Interim climate reanalysis, to calculate the evaporation sources for each country's precipitation, a.k.a. the precipitationshed. Second, we examine the social aspects of source and sink regions, using economic, food security, and land-use data. Third, we perform a literature review of relevant economic links, land-use policies, and land-use change for each country and its evaporation sources. The moisture-recycling analysis reveals that Mongolia, Niger, and Bolivia recycle 13, 9, and 18 % of their own moisture, respectively. Our analysis of social aspects suggests considerable heterogeneity in the social characteristics within each country relative to the societies in its corresponding evaporation sources. We synthesize our case studies and develop a set of three system archetypes that capture the core features of the moisture-recycling social–ecological systems (MRSESs): isolated, regional, and tele-coupled systems. Our key results are as follows: (a) geophysical tele-connections of atmospheric moisture are complemented by social tele-couplings forming feedback loops, and consequently, complex adaptive systems; (b) the heterogeneity of the social dynamics among our case studies renders broad generalization difficult and highlights the need for nuanced individual analysis; and, (c) there does not appear to be a single desirable or undesirable MRSES, with each archetype associated with benefits and disadvantages. This exploration of the social dimensions of moisture recycling is part of an extension of the emerging discipline of socio-hydrology and a suggestion for further exploration of new disciplines such as socio-meteorology or socio-climatology, within which the Earth system is considered as a coevolutionary social–ecological system.

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