PhD: Modelling social and environmental changes due to climate change and extreme floods and droughts
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam), , Netherlands
Apply before: 19 June 2022

Job description

Climate change will increase the frequency and severity of flood and droughts in river systems. Socio-economic trends such as urbanisation and increasing food demand put more pressure on the water system. Governments and households react to these systemic shocks and changes by, for example, building dikes to reduce flood risk and to construct of reservoirs and groundwater wells to cope with droughts and maximise crop production. However, it is not always clear where and what measures should be taken to maximise their effect and each adaptation measure also influences the hydrological and agricultural system. For example, some adaptation measures to anticipate to droughts (e.g. reservoirs) can support flood management by storing water during heavy rainfall. However, inadequate management of reservoirs can exacerbate floods downstream.

This research will focus on studying these human-natural feedbacks under a multi risk approach and by considering adaptation dynamics of water managers under both floods and droughts. This is done with a novel large-scale coupled hydrological and agent-based model. This model not only allows to simulate impacts of changes in the hydrological system on societies, but also to assess how society can reduce these impacts by implementing adaptation measures to reduce the impacts from floods and droughts. Several studies have examined the interplay between the behaviour of individuals and the environment using agent-based models, but only at the small scale. In contrast, the model applied here, can be used to study up- and downstream interlinkages in large river basins.

To this extent, you will further develop a large-scale hydrological model (CWatM) coupled to an agent-based model (ABM). The ABM simulates the behaviour of farmers, households, reservoir operators and governments and how they behave over time in response to the impacts/risk of floods and droughts. You will also investigate the effects of consecutive dry and wet events, the dependencies between them, and which measures reduce the impacts these multi risk events. To this extent, you will implement the coupled model for selected river basins in Europe and India by parameterising both the human dynamics (based on e.g. surveys) and natural processes. Furthermore, you will assess how future climate will affect the availability of water, agricultural production, flood and drought risk, and how individual or collective action can improve the environment.

The PhD project will be jointly executed with GfZ in Germany and IIASA and you will visit these institutes during your research. You will also connect to societal organisations (FAO, water managers, etc.) to derive more information to parameterise the models and on possible measures. The final PhD Thesis will be composed of four peer-reviewed scientific papers describing the model and simulation results.

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Of interest for:
  • Hydrology Focus Research Group
  • Human Dimensions Focus Research Group