Articles | Volume 17, issue 8
Review article
15 Aug 2013
Review article |  | 15 Aug 2013

Towards understanding the dynamic behaviour of floodplains as human-water systems

G. Di Baldassarre, M. Kooy, J. S. Kemerink, and L. Brandimarte

Abstract. This paper offers a conceptual approach to explore the complex dynamics of floodplains as fully coupled human-water systems. A number of hydrologists have recently investigated the impact of human activities (such as flood control measures, land-use changes, and settlement patterns) on the frequency and severity of floods. Meanwhile, social scientists have shown how interactions between society and waters in deltas and floodplain areas, including the frequency and severity of floods, have an impact on the ways in which social relations unfold (in terms of governance processes, policies, and institutions) and societies are organised (spatially, politically, and socially). However, we argue that the interactions and associated feedback mechanisms between hydrological and social processes remain largely unexplored and poorly understood. Thus, there is a need to better understand how the institutions and governance processes interact with hydrological processes in deltas and floodplains to influence the frequency and severity of floods, while (in turn) hydrological processes co-constitute the social realm and make a difference for how social relations unfold to shape governance processes and institutions. Our research goal, therefore, is not in identifying one or the other side of the cycle (hydrological or social), but in explaining the relationship between them: how, when, where, and why they interact, and to what result for both social relations and hydrological processes? We argue that long time series of hydrological and social data, along with remote sensing data, can be used to observe floodplain dynamics from unconventional approaches, and understand the complex interactions between water and human systems taking place in floodplain areas, across scales and levels of human impacts, and within different hydro-climatic conditions, socio-cultural settings, and modes of governance.