Science-narrative explorations of 'drought thresholds' in the maritime Eden catchment, Scotland: implications for local drought risk management

McEwen, Lindsey, Bryan, Kimberley, Black, Andrew, Blake, James and Afzal, Muhammad (2021) Science-narrative explorations of 'drought thresholds' in the maritime Eden catchment, Scotland: implications for local drought risk management. Frontiers in Environmental Science .

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UK drought is a ‘hidden’ pervasive risk, defined and perceived in different ways by different stakeholders and sectors. Scientists and water managers distinguish meteorological, agricultural, hydrological, and socio-economic drought. Historically triggers in drought risk management have been demarcated solely in specialist hydrological science terms. This paper explores ‘What is Drought?’, working with ‘drought thresholds’ as a bridging concept for science-narrative enquiry. The Fife Eden catchment in Scotland is used as an exemplar - a country perceived as wet and where access to abundant water is considered a right. The research forms part of the science-narrative methodology played out on hydro-meteorological gradients in seven UK case-study catchments, as part of the Drought Risk and You (DRY) project, with the agricultural Eden catchment the most northerly.
DRY used creative experimentation that drew on both science and narrative, and their interaction through specialist catchment-scale modelling of past and future drought risk, and gathering of local narratives of perceptions/experiences across sectors, including agriculture, business, health and wellbeing, community, and natural and built environments. Here we investigate the spatial and temporal aspects of drought in the catchment in science and narrative terms. We rethink the concept of thresholds to include perceptual triggers of drought and their impacts within various sectors and amongst different interest groups in the catchment. The paper discusses how this extended sense of thresholds might influence both assessment of sectoral vulnerabilities, and development of adaptive strategies of different stakeholders including statutory agencies. This involves developing a framework for science-narrative drought ‘threshold thinking’ that utilises creative interdisciplinary systems thinking, new graphical methods, consideration of severity, scale and time, and framing in terms of enhancing or reducing factors internal and external to the catchment.
Our findings indicate that drought presents many complexities within the catchment given the cross-sectoral nature of drought, rich sources of available water, uncertainties in climate change projections and variable quantitative and perceptual impact thresholds across and within sectors. Results suggest that a management paradigm that integrates both traditional and non-traditional ‘fuzzy’ threshold concepts across sectors should be integrated into current and future policy frameworks for local drought risk management.

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