Tag Archives: Line Gordon

A history of Stommel diagrams

Tiffany Vance and Ronald Doel have traced the history of the Stommel diagram from physical oceanography into biology, in their 2010 paper Graphical Methods and Cold War Scientific Practice: The Stommel Diagram’s Intriguing Journey from the Physical to the Biological Environmental Sciences in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (DOI: 10.1525/hsns.2010.40.1.1.)

The paper provides an rich history of how the innovative oceanographer Henry Stommel created his diagrams to emphasize the cross-scale dynamics of the ocean (See figure below), and how his diagram was adapted by biological oceanographers. However, they miss how Stommel diagrrams moved into ecosystem ecology and sustainability science.

Below I present a series of Stommel diagrams.  The first three figures are reproduced in Vance and Doel’s paper, the later three are from sustainability science.

First, Stommel’s original figure, which was designed to show how oceanic processes varied across scales, and that sampling efforts had to be planned with a consideration of these.

Schematic diagram of the spectral distribution of sea level (From Stommel 1963. Varieties of Oceanographic Experience. Science)

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We’re number 2!

Line Gordon tells me that our recent paper with Elena Bennett was the second most downloaded article from Ecology Letters in December:

  1. Biodiversity in a complex world: consolidation and progress in functional biodiversity research
    Helmut Hillebrand and Birte Matthiessen
  2. Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services
    Elena M. Bennett, Garry D. Peterson and Line J. Gordon
  3. The rise of research on futures in ecology: rebalancing scenarios and predictions
    Audrey Coreau, Gilles Pinay, John D. Thompson, Pierre-Olivier Cheptou and Laurent Mermet
  4. A general framework for neutral models of community dynamics
    Omri Allouche and Ronen Kadmon
  5. Leaf hydraulic evolution led a surge in leaf photosynthetic capacity during early angiosperm diversification
    Tim J. Brodribb and Taylor S. Feild

Scenario-planning for robust development in small-scale farming

Making Investments in Dryland Development Work: Participatory Scenario Planning in the Makanya Catchment, Tanzania is a new paper my colleagues Elin Enfors and Line Gordon from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Debbie Bossio from the International Water Management Institute, and I have just had published in Ecology and Society.  Below is part of the press release Scenario-planning help small-scale farming from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Predicting living conditions in 2030
People farming in the world´s drylands are some of the world´s poorest people, their populations are growing, but they have to cope with a variable climate that causes frequent crop failures. Consequently, many governments, NGOs, and scientists are making large efforts to improve productivity in small-scale farming particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

The recent development of cheap, farm-scale water management technologies offer the potential for farmers to improve their farm productivity and reduce their vulnerability to drought. However, often many development investments have failed.

To develop better approaches to investments in water management, Enfors, Gordon, Peterson and Bossio worked with famers, local officials, and scientists in Tanzania to identify alternative ways livelihoods, farming practices, and ecosystems could change over the next 25 years.

“We had two parallel objectives with the scenario planning exercise in Makanya”, says author Elin Enfors.

“The first was to analyze how, investments in water system technologies would play out over a range of alternative, but plausible futures, and the second was to initiate a discussion locally about the catchment’s future development”.

From our paper’s discussion and conclusions

Developing participatory scenarios also proved to be a useful tool to rapidly assess some of the major hopes, fears, and thoughts about the future among people in the local community. Such an overview is useful in any project, especially in a start-up phase. In this particular case, where the objective was to assess the relevance of investments in agricultural technologies that are intended for small-scale farmers, this perspective was essential because the farmers’ risk calculations and expectations of the future will influence whether or not, and under what conditions, they will adopt small-scale water system technologies.

Furthermore, there seems to be a risk that development and applied research projects become trapped in a vision that describes how their proposed interventions will ideally unfold over time. Scenario planning may help overcome such biases as it facilitates an understanding of how the project could develop in different kind of futures and because it improves the understanding of events and processes that either may challenge the project or provide opportunities for it.

We conclude that increasing the robustness of water investments should build

A way to increase the robustness of this type of investments is to build capacity among farmers for innovation and learning through experimentation, as this will generate benefits across a range of possible futures. The analysis shows that there is not one ideal type of collaborative partner for research and development projects working with small-scale agricultural technology, highlighting the importance of identifying a diverse set of potential collaborators.

Follow the links for more of Elin’s research in Makanya, and more photos of Makanya catchment.

Intensive agriculture’s ecological surprises

regime shift cartoon from TREE paperRhitu Chatterjee has written a news article Intensive agriculture’s ecological surprises in Environ. Sci. Technol. (July 2, 2008) about a paper Agricultural modifications of hydrological flows create ecological surprises (doi:10.1016/j.tree.2007.11.011) that Line Gordon, Elena Bennett and I published in TREE earlier this year.  From the article:

Previous reports have outlined ways that agriculture alters ecosystems by changing hydrology. The new study, led by Line Gordon of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, classifies these changes, or “regime shifts”, from one ecological state to another into three categories: through agriculture’s interaction with aquatic systems, as in the case of nutrient runoff; in the interactions of plants and soil, as in Australia’s salinity issues; or by influencing atmospheric processes such as evaporation and loss of water by plants (transpiration), as in the rapid drying of the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa.

The authors “make it clear that agricultural practices result in these regime changes by altering water quality and available quantity,” says Deborah Bossio, a water expert at Sri Lanka’s International Water Management Institute.

“The increasing demand for food, feed, and fuel is placing enormous pressure on the world’s arable lands,” says ecologist Simon Donner of the University of British Columbia (Canada). Awareness of agriculture-related environmental problems has been growing in the past few years, says Bossio. But some of that awareness has been lost in the “current frenzy of global food crisis shifting the balance back toward increasing yield.”

Be it the desertification of the Sahel, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, or the increasing salinity in Australia, countries all over the world are already trying to solve some of these problems. But the fixes are not quick, and the results of their efforts are often hard to predict.

Given the difficult-to-repair, or even irreparable, nature of the problems, agricultural systems must be made resilient to change, the authors argue. The new study adds to “the increasing chorus of voices” that emphasizes the need to avoid irreversible ecological damage, says Donner.

However, the science of understanding ecological regime shifts is still young, which makes it difficult to predict when the changes will manifest. “The tipping points aren’t very well understood at all,” says Bossio. Researchers first need to understand the various biophysical factors involved and how those factors interact with one another, the authors say.

For now, ecologists, agronomists, and regulators can acknowledge the problem and encourage certain practices to minimize the likelihood of some of these water-related changes. People should begin by viewing agriculture not simply as a source of food but also as a source of ecosystem services like water and biodiversity, says coauthor Garry Peterson of McGill University (Canada). For example, Australian farmers are adopting mosaic farming, which involves combining annual crops, pastures, and perennial trees into the same landscape. This restores biodiversity and hydrology and prevents the rise of salinity.

“If we don’t heed the management lessons from the past, many of which are listed in the paper, we are bound to face many more ecological surprises in the coming decades,” says Donner.