Human-environment systems research

About us

Human-environment systems behave according to complex functions and interactions between physical processes and human interventions, often controlled by external mechanisms like, e.g., climate change or legal regulation. Our research objects are water systems of regional scale: water is the fundamental resource for human existence and welfare. As human-environment systems scientists, we strive for an improved understanding of the processes and interactions of agents, as well as of the effects of the given framing conditions. Thereby our research is often guided by inter- and transdisciplinary paradigms and project settings like, e.g., mutual learning alliances. The overall aim is to integrate the various natural and social scientific perspectives and methods for an improved understanding of the immanent functions of the system components, as well as a holistic view onto the emergent behaviour of the entire water system. Comprehension and quantitative computation (simulation) of the relevant processes enable its prediction. By means of modification of its individual components the interaction chains, the regulation mechanisms and the evolution of the system as a whole can be quantitatively assessed (scenarios).

Our disciplinary roots are in the natural sciences and origin in hydrology and climatology. We specialize in the analysis of the fluxes of energy and water at the atmosphere - land surface interface, as well as in the management of resources in mountain catchments of regional scale. To structurally and mathematically describe and quantify the dynamics and interlinked functioning of energy and water storages and fluxes we have developed a modelling framework particularly designed to be applied in high spatial and temporal resolutions in regions with complex topography: AMUNDSEN (= Alpine Multiscale Numerical Distributed Simulation Engine) is physically-based, modular and fully distributed. The model is forced either with meteorological station recordings or with outputs from climate models or weather generators for future scenario simulations. AMUNDSEN provides special interface types for the coupling with numerical tools from the social sciences (e.g., economic models or agent-based models). Key features of the model include performance, scale independence and universal applicability.

In the Rofental (Ötztal Alps) we operate a highly engineered research site in unique position - several instruments are the highest situated of their type all over the Alps. Here we contribute to a comprehensive data base of meteorological, hydrological and glaciological observations and further develop our modelling approaches. Apart from monitoring, process analyses and modelling our research interest focuses on questions originating in sustainable management of the water resources for the supply of the population, for hydropower generation and for technical snow production. Our observation site in the Rofental is a research cooperation between several national and international partners, an LTSER master site and an INARCH research basin.

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