Sensitivity of emergent sociohydrologic dynamics to internal system properties and external sociopolitical factors: Implications for water management

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is increasingly acknowledged that effective management of water resources requires a holistic understanding of the coevolving dynamics inherent in the coupled human-hydrology system. One of the fundamental information gaps concerns the sensitivity of coupled system feedbacks to various endogenous system properties and exogenous societal contexts. This paper takes a previously calibrated sociohydrology model and applies an idealized implementation, in order to: (i) explore the sensitivity of emergent dynamics resulting from bidirectional feedbacks to assumptions regarding (a) internal system properties that control the internal dynamics of the coupled system and (b) the external sociopolitical context; and (ii) interpret the results within the context of water resource management decision making. The analysis investigates feedback behavior in three ways, (a) via a global sensitivity analysis on key parameters and assessment of relevant model outputs, (b) through a comparative analysis based on hypothetical placement of the catchment along various points on the international sociopolitical gradient, and (c) by assessing the effects of various direct management intervention scenarios. Results indicate the presence of optimum windows that might offer the greatest positive impact per unit of management effort. Results further advocate management tools that encourage an adaptive learning, community-based approach with respect to water management, which are found to enhance centralized policy measures. This paper demonstrates that it is possible to use a place-based sociohydrology model to make abstractions as to the dynamics of bidirectional feedback behavior, and provide insights as to the efficacy of water management tools under different circumstances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4944-4966
Number of pages23
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • adaptive water resource management
  • coupled human-water systems
  • coupled system feedbacks
  • social responses
  • sociohydrology
  • threshold behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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