Adaptive Understanding and Management for Floods

Resource management problems have so often defied prediction that surprise rather than certainty has become the common theme for embarrassed managers and theoreticians. The sources of uncertainty derive from our failure to grasp the structure and operation of complex systems: nested hierarchies that generate non-linear dynamics from within-scale and cross-scale interactions. We increasingly recognize that surprise and uncertainty are inevitable given that nature and society are moving targets with very complicated interactions at multiple scales. How can we practically address this uncertainty? We describe a process, Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management (AEAM), that has developed over 30 years of experiments as a test of our abilities to integrate inquiry, understanding, and action in the face of surprising shifts in evolving resource systems. AEAM has been applied to resource management problems such as tourism, fisheries, forestries, mining and agriculture. We consider briefly AEAM’s application to river management problems in North America and discuss the potential to experiment with AEAM to address the interplay of ecological and economic problems in European river basins with a history of flooding.

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