Crossing the threshold in ecology and water use

Two interesting reports today have highlighted, for me, the delicate balance between environmental management, ecology and water management.

Rebecka Törnqvist gave a lunch time seminar on irrigation methods and efficient water management in the Aral Sea Basin. She has been looking at  the impact of reforming irrigation practises on water extraction from the rivers draining into the Aral Sea. Up to 10 cubic kilometers of water could be saved by introducing more efficient systems. Problems with introducing such systems would include the capital cost of roling out the infrastructure, the effect of the systems on crop management and uncertainties regarding the capacity of the nations and local governments to implement or maintain more complex systems. Her work is part of a larger research effort which is investigating the impact of changing water usage, climate and hydrology on the Aral sea Basin (and the sea itself).

On a similar subject the BBC reports  that the collapse of the Nazca society in Peru around 1500 years ago was probably related to deforestation. The Nazca are most famous for their creation of giant figures they etched into the desert. New research suggests the loss of natural forests due to over exploitation tipped the local ecology over a threshold. El Niño related flooding then became amplified devasting the floodplains on which the Nazca had settled.

These research projects reinforce a message that itself is not especially new: that deforestation and poor agricultural practises can result in devastating changes to the hydrology, ecology and social structures in the affacted regions. Integrated planning is needed rather than isolated responses to environmental degradation. These studies furthermore show how basic research (or fudamental research as it is also known) can help us understand important societal issues.

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