Looking Beyond Glaciers to Understand Mountain Water Security
New Publication
article written by MRI
08.11.22 | 03:11

A new paper rethinks mountain water security, calling for a better understanding of the complex interaction between glacial meltwater and coupled human-natural systems. 

The paper, co-authored by MRI Co-PI, Christian Huggel, also calls for a refocusing from glacio-hydrological monitoring and modelling to a more integrated social-ecological perspective of the wider catchment hydrology.

Paper Highlights

  • Authors argue that a poor understanding of the interactions between the atmosphere, cryosphere, glacial and non-glacial water stores, and people hamper climate change adaptation and long-term water security.
  • Meaningful assessments of mountain water security require a holistic social-ecological perspective that interlinks the wider catchment hydrology, which considers surface and subsurface stores including deeper groundwater flows, and people, with an improved process understanding of human water demand.

  • Authors argue that it is paramount to assess upstream–downstream relationships of water users under principles of water security, to understand how upstream water withdrawals affect downstream use and how the downstream water demand shapes the upstream water management and availability.

  • Authors call for improved data and diverse knowledge collection, with the integration of these into a collaborative science–policy–community framework.

 

Abstract

Changes in the mountain cryosphere impact the water security of downstream societies and the resilience of water-dependent ecosystems and their services. However, assessing mountain water security requires better understanding of the complex interaction between glacial meltwater and coupled human–natural systems. In this context, we call for a refocusing from glacio-hydrological monitoring and modelling to a more integrated social-ecological perspective of the wider catchment hydrology. This shift requires locally relevant knowledge-production strategies and the integration of such knowledge into a collaborative science–policy–community framework. This approach, combined with hydrological risk assessment, can support the development of robust, locally tailored and transformational adaptation strategies.


Citation: Drenkhan, F., Buytaert, W., Mackay, J.D. et al. Looking beyond glaciers to understand mountain water security. Nat Sustain (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00996-4

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 Cover image by Luke Vodell.