Impacts of Water Variability: Benefits and Challenges


A methodology for the prediction of environmentally mediated stress: impacts of a changing hydrological cycle


John R Siddorn, The Met Office, Bracknell, Berks., United Kingdom; and M. Harrison

In recent years there has been much discussion on the role that environmental systems play in affecting, or triggering, social and political stress. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the world we live in - especially those aspects of it that affect the vital elements of water, food and natural resources - cannot be ignored when investigating societal stress. The delineation of these interactions between the physical properties of our environment and human behaviour provide the ultimate test of our ability to cross-fertilise knowledge from disciplines as diverse as hydrology, economics, politics, health and the social sciences. Modelling of the impacts of environmental change is being undertaken within a variety of projects, although there are significant difficulties associated with quantitative analysis of this kind. Scenario building is one way of avoiding this problem, and has been popular amongst many researchers in the field. However, this is also problematic as scenarios are, by definition, geographically specific and static in time.

An alternative 'Drivers and Indicators' method is therefore being used within the Environmental Stresses Project at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. This approach simplifies the problem by assuming a range of indicators can be used to determine the level of socio-political stress. 'Driver' variables have been determined which, when undergoing change, drive the 'indicator' variables either away or towards stress. This method has the advantage of being generic and unconstrained by the need to be strictly quantitative. However, its success is dependent upon the judicious choice of both drivers and indicators, and a good understanding not only of the linkages between them, but also linkages between the different driver variables as well as the feedbacks from the indicators to the drivers.

A pilot project is presented in which a GIS system is used to assess the validity of this approach. The work follows up previous studies undertaken in Brazil and China, in which assessments where made of vulnerabilities to environmental stresses. The focus of the work has so far been upon the hydrological system, with its obvious link to water, food and resource scarcity, and the impact changes in components of the hydrological system have upon the indicator variables and hence societal stress.

Session 5, Global Perspectives on Impacts
Tuesday, 11 February 2003, 1:30 PM-4:45 PM

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