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Catchment typologies of risk and resilience

Catchment typologies of risk and resilience
Shaded stream
Shading can help regulate water temperature.

Why is this needed?

In developing our understanding of how different waterbodies respond to anthropogenic pressures, catchment scientists often turn to statistical examination of basic catchment and waterbody attributes, such as land cover, slope, soil types, etc. to explain pressures and impacts. However, despite widespread recognition that multiple-stressors are important drivers of changethe relative importance of ameliorative cf. synergistic interactions between factors that reduce (resilience) or intensify (sensitivity) responses of waterbodies to pressures are poorly developed.

There is often a lot of scatter within the relationships that link catchment pressures and waterbody responses and this creates a level of uncertainty that is not well represented within current approaches. Typologies can be used to generalise responses and such reduce uncertainty.

Another benefit of using typologies is that they can be used to identify a common baseline or reference condition.

What do we mean by a typology?

Typologies flow chartWe propose that key factors (e.g. riparian condition, biophysical attributes governing in-stream or in-lake processing) should be combined in multiple ways to determine ‘sensitivity’ in terms of how anthropogenic pressures determine biogeochemical and ecological responses.

A typology is a method of classifying, or grouping, entities on the basis of their physical characteristics or behaviours. When based on functional attributes, typologies can help us understand the way that waterbodies respond to catchment pressures and enable us to combine primary spatial data (such as soils, land cover, elevation) in more meaningful ways. However, to implement such as classification system we need to unravel the relationships between the functional behaviours of catchments and the sensitivities of waterbodies. 

Typologies, ultimately developed could comprise many characteristics helping us to quantify, group and predict different responses; like a catchment’s ‘genetic fingerprint’.

How are typologies being used in our research?

Our work relates to developing an informed characterisation of grouped behaviours (typologies) to improve catchment assessments of risk and modelling development. This incorporates concepts of multiple stressors and resilience versus sensitivity in responses with a focus on supporting wider work in the program around three main areas:

  • Water quality impacts, especially eutrophication, caused by diffuse and point source pollution
  • Temperature related stress to fish and other aquatic ecology
  • Impairment of drinking water sources by catchment issues that affect quantity and quality (e.g. Dissolved Organic Carbon, (DOC), pathogens, nutrients and algal blooms).

The research being carried out

The research is being carried out by The James Hutton Institute with CEH, Edinburgh, funded through the RESAS 2016-21 Natural Assets theme.

Concepts: We have been establishing the concepts and the framework for catchment typologies approaches. By ‘catchment’ we implicitly mean the continuum from the catchment (environment, land and people) to, and within, the waterbody.

As part of this we established the need for the concept, current examples of approaches and directions for its development at a workshop with stakeholders from Marine Scotland, SEPA, Forest Research and Scottish Water.

The workshop report can be found here. The key areas of discussion focussed on:

Research techniques

  • Scaling of typology approaches both for input data and outputs, but also for spatial and temporal scales (where the latter includes for example longer-term changes and ‘shocks’ or extreme events in waterbody receptor responses).
  • Role for modelling in gap-filling, with a need to communicate uncertainty.
  • Examples of a community approaches to data acquisition, sharing, online and statistical tools were shown from the United States (National Stream Internet project, USDA)
  • Promoting better sharing of data and resources.

Data and validation: In parallel to developing the concepts we have been assembling datasets from our own studies, those from key partners and from global literature sources. These data relate to new and updated datasets for catchment and waterbody pressures, but also to ameliorative catchment and waterbody factors proposed related to processes of risk versus resilience of waterbody responses. Developing work is testing these characteristics empirically against waterbody response variables (physical, biogeochemical and ecological).

Image result for clip art data validationWe believe that combining data in such ways we can develop ‘grouped behaviours’ that explain spatio-temporal differences in catchment responses to factors such as climate change, pollution control and restoration. To achieve this we work together as scientists knowledgeable in the catchment and waterbody processes alongside spatial data scientists who are able to represent the processes through combining primary datasets in space such as through GIS.

OutputsOutputs and resources under development

  • Metadata summaries of spatial data resources
  • Catchment webpages
  • Mini-reviews of key catchment functions -

Delineating critical zones of riparian processes

External links

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project
SEFARI – Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research InstitutesSEFARI is the collective of six Scottish world-leading Research Institutes working across the spectrum of environment, land, food, agriculture and communities – all topics which affect how we live our lives, in Scotland and beyond.


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.