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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Research article
06 Dec 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).
On the social dynamics of moisture recycling
Patrick W. Keys1,2 and Lan Wang-Erlandsson2,3 1School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, USA
2Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
3Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan
Abstract. The biophysical phenomenon of terrestrial moisture recycling connects distant regions via the atmospheric branch of the water cycle. This process, whereby the land surface mediates evaporation to the atmosphere and the precipitation that falls downwind, is increasingly well-understood. However, recent studies highlight a need to consider an important and oft missing dimension – the social. Here, we explore the social dimensions of three case study countries with strong terrestrial moisture recycling: Mongolia, Niger, and Bolivia. Based on our case studies we present a set of three system archetypes that capture the core features of the Moisture Recycling Social Ecological Systems (MRSES): isolated, regional, and tele-coupled. We further explore the heterogeneity of human well-being within MRSES, by examining the characteristics of sources and sinks of moisture. We find that the sources and sinks of moisture can experience very different levels of human well-being, suggesting that power discontinuities must be included in the description of MRSES dynamics. We argue that geophysical tele-connections are complemented by social tele-couplings forming feedback loops, and consequently, complex adaptive systems. This exploration of the social dimensions of moisture recycling is part of an extension of the emerging discipline of socio-hydrology, and a suggestion for further exploration of new disciplines such as socio-meteorology or socio-climatology, within which the Earth system is considered as a co-evolutionary social-ecological system.
Citation: Keys, P. W. and Wang-Erlandsson, L.: On the social dynamics of moisture recycling, Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss.,, in review, 2017.
Patrick W. Keys and Lan Wang-Erlandsson
Patrick W. Keys and Lan Wang-Erlandsson
Patrick W. Keys and Lan Wang-Erlandsson


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Short summary
Moisture recycling is the atmospheric branch of the water cycle, including evaporation and precipitation. While the physical water cycle is well-understood, the social links among the recipients of precipitation back to the sources of evaporation are not. In this work, we develop a method to determine how these social connections unfold, using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, finding that there are distinct types of social connections with corresponding policy and management tools.
Moisture recycling is the atmospheric branch of the water cycle, including evaporation and...