Working Paper Review Version 1 This version is not peer-reviewed

Resilience in Complex Catchment Systems

Version 1 : Received: 31 December 2020 / Approved: 4 January 2021 / Online: 4 January 2021 (16:22:18 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Beevers, L.; Bedinger, M.; McClymont, K.; Visser-Quinn, A. Resilience in Complex Catchment Systems. Water 2021, 13, 541. Beevers, L.; Bedinger, M.; McClymont, K.; Visser-Quinn, A. Resilience in Complex Catchment Systems. Water 2021, 13, 541.

Journal reference: Water 2021, 13, 541
DOI: 10.3390/w13040541


In this paper we explore how we can use catchment resilience as a unifying concept to manage and regulate catchments, using structured reviews to support our perspective. River catchments are physical boundaries which delineate where all surface water (e.g. precipitation, snow, meltwater) falling on a piece of land runs off or flows to a single point at a lower elevation, where the river meets a larger body of water (e.g. sea, lake). Catchments are complex systems with interrelated natural, social, and technical aspects. The exposure, vulnerability, and resilience of these aspects (separately and in combination) are the latent conditions which when triggered by a specific hazard, result in catchment impacts. In complex catchment systems, resilience is the ability to bounce-back, the ability to absorb, and the ability to transform. When all three abilities are accounted for, we are forced to consider the interactions of the catchment system. Six main complexity concepts can be used to frame how we approach evaluating catchment resilience. These concepts are: natural-social-technical aspects, interactions, spatial scales, time scales, multiple forms of evidence, and uncertainty. In analysing these complexity concepts we have found that there are several gaps in current practice. For example critical interactions which need further methodological study are the linkages between the natural-social-technical realms, as well as across spatial scales (e.g. households or communities) and time scales (e.g. days or years). Requirements for future methodological approaches are suggested. Central to these is (1) the study of interactions linking the short- to medium-term time scales (2) better integration of bottom-up and top-down approaches, to link local context with higher-level decision-making, and (3) developing ‘hazard-agnostic’ methods which can address the impacts of floods, droughts – even acknowledging dormant ‘socio-technical hazards’. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to catchment resilience. Mixed method approaches are required and their selection will depend on contextual issues identified early in the process for specific catchments. Central to any effective approach is the incorporation of a linking systems or interaction analysis, which draws together the natural-social-technical system in a meaningful way. If our approaches do not begin to acknowledge the interdependencies and interactions, we may miss substantial opportunities to enhance catchment resilience.

Subject Areas

resilience; complex systems; catchment

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