Articles | Volume 18, issue 6
Research article
13 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 13 Jun 2014

A prototype framework for models of socio-hydrology: identification of key feedback loops and parameterisation approach

Y. Elshafei, M. Sivapalan, M. Tonts, and M. R. Hipsey

Abstract. It is increasingly acknowledged that, in order to sustainably manage global freshwater resources, it is critical that we better understand the nature of human–hydrology interactions at the broader catchment system scale. Yet to date, a generic conceptual framework for building models of catchment systems that include adequate representation of socioeconomic systems – and the dynamic feedbacks between human and natural systems – has remained elusive. In an attempt to work towards such a model, this paper outlines a generic framework for models of socio-hydrology applicable to agricultural catchments, made up of six key components that combine to form the coupled system dynamics: namely, catchment hydrology, population, economics, environment, socioeconomic sensitivity and collective response. The conceptual framework posits two novel constructs: (i) a composite socioeconomic driving variable, termed the Community Sensitivity state variable, which seeks to capture the perceived level of threat to a community's quality of life, and acts as a key link tying together one of the fundamental feedback loops of the coupled system, and (ii) a Behavioural Response variable as the observable feedback mechanism, which reflects land and water management decisions relevant to the hydrological context. The framework makes a further contribution through the introduction of three macro-scale parameters that enable it to normalise for differences in climate, socioeconomic and political gradients across study sites. In this way, the framework provides for both macro-scale contextual parameters, which allow for comparative studies to be undertaken, and catchment-specific conditions, by way of tailored "closure relationships", in order to ensure that site-specific and application-specific contexts of socio-hydrologic problems can be accommodated. To demonstrate how such a framework would be applied, two socio-hydrological case studies, taken from the Australian experience, are presented and the parameterisation approach that would be taken in each case is discussed. Preliminary findings in the case studies lend support to the conceptual theories outlined in the framework. It is envisioned that the application of this framework across study sites and gradients will aid in developing our understanding of the fundamental interactions and feedbacks in such complex human–hydrology systems, and allow hydrologists to improve social–ecological systems modelling through better representation of human feedbacks on hydrological processes.