Coupled Human-Natural System Drivers of Watershed Function

In human-populated watersheds, hydrologic outcomes are the collective result of both human and natural drivers. Just as naturally occurring events occur at different spatial and temporal frequencies, human activities create unique environmental contexts that also influence the performance of these physical systems in myriad and significant ways. If global atmospheric circulation patterns are the primary cause of precipitation, it is land use and land cover decisions that partition it into runoff, soil moisture, recharge, and evaporation. Global trade of agricultural and other products creates significant flows of virtual water; cities cast rain shadows; natural river systems propagate pollution and water born diseases; and unsustainable irrigation practices deplete fossil groundwater supplies.

While most hydrologic research seeks to develop new and improved methods to understand and model how various natural climatological and geophysical properties vary in time and space in unpopulated watersheds, the emphasis of research at the SWRE lab is on populated watersheds, i.e. watersheds that are heavily impacted by human activity and infrastructure. Indeed, as the human population grows, urbanizes, and continues to colonize coastlines, the desire to more sustainably manage water and other natural resources requires the development of new insights into how people, infrastructure, and ecosystems functionally interact at a variety of scales.

Our research studying the coupled human-natural system drivers of watershed function makes use of both physical, and agent-based models and has involved work in urban and urbanizing landscapes in developed, and developing world countries.

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