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Volume 9, issue 2 | Copyright

Special issue: Social dynamics and planetary boundaries in Earth system...

Earth Syst. Dynam., 9, 829-847, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 14 Jun 2018

Research article | 14 Jun 2018

On the social dynamics of moisture recycling

Patrick W. Keys1,2 and Lan Wang-Erlandsson2,3 Patrick W. Keys and Lan Wang-Erlandsson
  • 1School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, USA
  • 2Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan

Abstract. 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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Short summary
Moisture recycling is the atmospheric branch of the water cycle, including evaporation and precipitation. While the physical water cycle is well-understood, the social links among the recipients of precipitation back to the sources of evaporation are not. In this work, we develop a method to determine how these social connections unfold, using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, finding that there are distinct types of social connections with corresponding policy and management tools.
Moisture recycling is the atmospheric branch of the water cycle, including evaporation and...