Adding the human element to hydro-climate risk assessments

22 February 2018

Ongoing research at the IVM-VU seeks to integrate agent-based and hydro-climatic models to better assess risk and vulnerability to increased climate variability. Agent-based modelling is relatively new in the context of water and climate risk, but offers a promising approach to account for how humans respond to perceived risks. Researchers from IVM-VU, the University of Bristol and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) are collaborating on this topic and several PhD students are involved in an exchange programme.

An agent-based model (ABM) allows for the explicit simulation of human decision making, emphasising the behaviour of different agents who are embedded in and interacting with a dynamic environment, and who have the capacity to learn and adapt in response to changes in other agents and the environment. Hence, ABM enable the analysis of feedbacks between anthropogenic adaptation and large scale environmental systems.

Agent-based model structure. Graph taken from Haer et al. (2017).

Specific topics studied at the IVM include drought and flood risk management, both in Europe, Africa and the US and bring together researchers from the IVM-VU, the University of Bristol and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Modelling adaptation to droughts

In the contexts of drought, farmers make proactive and reactive economic decisions to protect crops against water shortage that ultimately impact local, regional and international food security. Researchers from IVM and UCSB are building agent-based models of three test cases are being built: small-scale farmers in Kenya adopting water retention measures, the impacts of drought on groundwater use by farmers in the Central Valley, and the uptake of more efficient irrigation systems and practices within both large-scale and family farms in Italy.

Flood risk management

With respect to flood adaptation, governments can make proactive and reactive decisions to implement adaptation measures to reduce risk, while households can decide on protecting themselves or buy flood insurance. Using the agent-based modelling approach, these macro- and micro-level interactions can be simulated, providing insights into the effects on flood risk when applying different types of flood risk management policies.

Individual behaviours

Reactively, individuals make choices about how to evacuate and ABM offers potential insights into how these behaviors impact on road congestion and ease of access might navigate away from flood water.

Support for some of these projects comes from the UCGHI Planetary Health Center of Expertise

Publication details

Haer, T., Botzen, W. J. W., De Moel, H., & Aerts, J. C. J. H. (2017). Integrating household mitigation behaviour in flood risk analysis: An agent-based model approach. Risk Analysis37(10), 1977-1992.

Haer, T., Botzen, W. J. W., & Aerts, J. C. J. H. (2016). The effectiveness of flood risk communication strategies and the influence of social networks: insights from an agent-based model. Environmental Science & Policy60, 44-52.

Published by  IBED Water