Peak Ecological Water and its shift under climate change: case studies from Peru and Pennsylvania
Coffee Hour with Denice Wardrop, Director of Riparia, Research Professor, Geography and Ecology, Penn State
About the talk
In most watersheds, as withdrawals for human needs increase, the ecological services provided by the same water are in decline. At a certain point, the value of water provided for human use is equal to the value of the ecological services, and beyond this point, ecological disruptions exceed the benefits of increased water extraction; this point is referred to as “peak ecological water." In addition, the human and ecological benefits may occur at different spatial and temporal scales. Climate change may be shifting the point of peak ecological water in new and unpredictable ways, and two case studies provide insights into how those changes may be context dependent. In the first case study, we examine the ecological and humans services provided by high altitude peat bogs termed bofedales that are supported by glacial melt water; the predicted loss in glacial volume changes the timing and amount of water delivery, with implications for the balance between human supply uses and the ecological services provided by these systems. The second case study investigates the predicted impact of hydrological changes associated with climate change on the ecological services provided by wetlands in Pennsylvania; the point of peak ecological water is predicted to shift in this case, as well. The shifts in hydrology that may be coming as a result of climate change may be far greater than the shifts that we have learned to manage in the recent past; a new generation of management and assessment tools will be required.
About the speaker
A hallmark of my professional career as a scientist has been attracting and harnessing resources for the production of knowledge to inform policy and practice, in order that humans and the aquatic systems can bring out the best in each other; the results have been used to shape national policy around such areas as wetland monitoring and condition assessment, ecological indicators, and restoration of ecosystem services. Alongside this, I continue to actively apply knowledge to practice through activities at local, state, national, and global scales, including membership on committees that guide restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay and the Florida Everglades. A pivotal role in my career was as founding director of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, where I demonstrated leadership in the creation of a unique organization intended to transform a large institution into a living lab for sustainability. Within four years, I led my staff in programs and initiatives that met that mission, and learned an abiding lesson: that true co-creation among a diverse set of partners yields profound results. My current role is as a returning faculty member in the Geography department, with a concurrent leadership role in building engaged scholarship. I am utilizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to communicate to students what they can contribute to the world, and structure engaged scholarship opportunities to build that capacity. Thus, I find myself operating across scales of change and transformation, from individual students to two of the world’s largest environmental restoration efforts.