A scientific approach of complex dynamics at play within a watershed
The objective is to elaborate and test a methodology to understand the essential dynamics at play in the geographic spaces delimited by watersheds. It is about identifying the geophysical, biological and social dominant factors that determine its health in term of long term biological diversity (human included) and productivity. This methodology should eventually allow all stakeholders to evaluate and develop their capacities to design strategies conducive to optimal biological and human equilibrium, understanding the short and long term costs versus benefits of choices and priorities. Each stakeholder should then be able to perceive and balance the triple bottom lines:
Optimization of renewable natural resources,
improvement of quality of life for all communities,
qualitative growth of the local economy.
Building participative perceptive and predictive instruments
Encompassing entire watersheds implies scale issues that landscape ecology is well equipped for. Very recently made available “remote-sensing” images, from satellite to drones, are precious sources of accurate information, allowing analytic cartography and spacial analysis with open source software such as QGIS.
Complex System being often constituted by sub Complex System, correlating these images with terrain reality will request multidisciplinary experts contribution, from literature to field trips for “ground truthing”.
Now, one of the characteristic of theses human dominated Complex Adaptive Systems is the rapidity and scale at which human’s impacts occur are often compromising the system adaptive capacities. Adaptation happen at time scale that is not matching anymore human society technological progress. As biological entity ourselves we are badly adapted to perceive the range of “externalities” implied by our collective actions.
Chains of causalities are buried under their intricate complexity. Human brains are not able to keep track and memory of all these connections and parallel interactions, but computer memories and processor can.
The rapid development of Complex System Modeling plateform, such as Bayesian Network, System Dynamics and Agent Based Modeling, can give us a “macroscopic” understanding of the real adaptative capacities of the complex social-ecological system that is a watershed as essential biotope.
The instruments for community understanding of their complex globalized environment must imperatively be developed in transparent and collaborative ways.
A contributory territorial multidisciplinary research laboratory
Applied science at territorial scale can only happen with solid trust and contribution of local communities. Their practice and knowledge of the land, its geography, biology and traditions are invaluable to all consequent actions. Community understanding of their process is essential.
Three years of land reconnoitre have accustom to each other part of the researcher team and local communities, consolidated trust and clarified mutual expectations.
In parallel collection of remote sensing images and GIS data have been listed or collected to establish an elementary cartographic layers of the zone of interest.
Prominent problems have been identified and first hypothesis have been laid down.
The need is now to establish on the terrain an open research center that integrates all communities. This shared working space will be used as permanent interface between local populations and visiting and locally based researchers. This space is designated as the “Udalo FabLab”. Its program and plans are in the process of being drafted by HATCHabitat’s architects. It should be build by 2020 on the 4 ha land already purchased by ECO²Squared.
The first studies will build up from locally crowd sourced data, from adults and pupils from local schools.
A initial cartography is to be develop with Participative GIS.
Simple modeling of primary complex sub-systems will be developed to be aggregated in larger complex models. These ones will allow exploration of diverse scenarios, that will be calibrated according to real field observations.
Eventually these models will allow stakeholders to develop new mental models and better informed prognostics about potential futures.
Complex Adaptive Socio-Ecological Systems
Watersheds are conceived as elementary socio-ecological spacial units, as coherent dynamic places where physical, biological and anthropological systems interact in multiple ways and at multiple scales of space and time.. It is an interconnected geographical area where each event, big or small, chronic or exceptional, has ripple effects in all realms, abiotic, biotic and anthropic.
Each watershed is considered as a specific autonomous matrix of life. It can be understood as a Complex Adaptive System that can perpetuate itself, develop, vegetate or fail and die.
Not yet a science by itself, the fairly recent Complex System theory is attracting attention from many scientific fields, if not all. Related to the Chaos theory, it studies “non linear” systems, in the sense that little incremental change of initial conditions can produce unpredictable massively different results. And this seems to be the characteristic of all living systems, which are not only Complex but also Self-Adapting.
Nevertheless, if unpredictable specifically in time and space, all Complex Systems seems to develop within identifiable specific patterns also called “attractors”, that define limits and transitional states.
Could we, within a watershed, learn to perceive theses thresholds and tweak them to stay within optimal ranges?