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Looking beyond glaciers to understand mountain water security

Abstract

Changes in the mountain cryosphere impact the water security of downstream societies and the resilience of water-dependent ecosystems and their services. However, assessing mountain water security requires better understanding of the complex interaction between glacial meltwater and coupled human–natural systems. In this context, we call for a refocusing from glacio-hydrological monitoring and modelling to a more integrated social-ecological perspective of the wider catchment hydrology. This shift requires locally relevant knowledge-production strategies and the integration of such knowledge into a collaborative science–policy–community framework. This approach, combined with hydrological risk assessment, can support the development of robust, locally tailored and transformational adaptation strategies.

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Fig. 1: Components and interactions of the hydrological cycle within a catchment context.
Fig. 2: Conceptual representation of the upstream–downstream gradient of risks and its contributing factors in a glacierized basin.
Fig. 3: Social-environmental drivers of risk and adaptation options to achieve mountain water security.

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Acknowledgements

This study was developed within the framework of the Newton–Paulet Fund-based RAHU project, which is implemented by CONCYTEC Peru and UKRI (NERC grant no. NE/S013210/1). J.D.M. publishes with the permission of the Executive Director, British Geological Survey (UKRI). We would like to thank C. Jackson, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, for the professional design of Figs. 1, 2 and 3.

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W.B. and F.D. developed the main ideas. F.D. led the writing and figure design, and all authors contributed to the discussions, refinement, and writing.

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Correspondence to Fabian Drenkhan.

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Drenkhan, F., Buytaert, W., Mackay, J.D. et al. Looking beyond glaciers to understand mountain water security. Nat Sustain (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00996-4

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