Debates-Perspectives on socio-hydrology: Changing water systems and the “tyranny of small problems”-Socio-hydrology


We are well and truly in the Anthropocene. Humans can no longer be considered as mere external drivers or boundary conditions in the hydrologic systems we study. The interactions and feedbacks between human actions and water cycle dynamics on the planet, combined with the evolution of human norms/values in relation to water, are throwing up a range of emergent “big problems.” Understanding and offering sustainable solutions to these “big problems” require a broadening of hydrologic science to embrace the perspectives of both social and natural scientists. The new science of socio-hydrology was introduced with this in mind, yet faces major challenges due to the wide gulf that separates the knowledge foundations and methodologies of natural and social sciences. Yet, the benefits of working together are enormous, including through adoption of natural science methods for social science problems, and vice versa. Bringing together the perspectives of both social and natural scientists dealing with water is good for hydrologic science, having the salutary effect of revitalizing it as use-inspired basic science. It is good for management too, in that the broader, holistic perspectives provided by socio-hydrology can help recognize potential “big” problems that may otherwise be unforeseen and, equally, identify potential “alternative” solutions to otherwise intractable problems.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Murugesu Sivapalan, University of Illinois
Water Resources Research