As below, so above: Atmospheric water politics

This project investigates regimes of privatization of atmospheric resources and space, within a void of responsibility. It is currently manifesting as one early-stage project expanding the hydrosocial framework vertically to include atmospheric water.

Modeling The Hydrosocial Cycle In Two California Coastal WatershedsThe standard hydrologic cycle reimagined as a coastal hydro-social cycle (Image by author 2017).

Katherine G. Sammler, California State University Maritime Academy, Global Studies & Maritime Affairs
Lily House-Peters, California State University Long Beach, Geography

Social scientists have long sought for water to be understood as more than just a physical phenomenon, but an important part of our social and political spheres as well. Large-scale drought across California has brought water management into the forefront of discussions of sustainability and good governance. However, freshwater is only one fragment of the hydrological cycle, just one aspect of human interaction with water. From groundwater to atmospheric water vapor, humans interact with, interrupt, and fundamentally disrupt the hydrologic cycle at multiple points via the withdrawal, consumption, and disposal of water. As the terminal downstream, the ocean and coastal systems it supports, are highly impacted by human activity across the hydrologic cycle.
Yet hydro-social research has focused primarily on inland watersheds and their terrestrial components, with limited attention to coastal watersheds and the unique flows and processes where rivers meet the sea. This research engages the theoretical framework of the hydrosocial cycle to draw together an interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists to explore the critical issue of the cumulative impacts of human disruption of the hydrological cycle on coastal areas and ocean health. The workshop invites participants with diverse expertise in fresh and marine water science and management at different stages throughout the hydrological cycle to produce an innovative hydrosocial cycle model to inform watershed scale management with an explicit focus on social and physical terrestrial-coastal-ocean interlinkages.

One example of how this work will expand on previous hydrosocial research is to adress the legal and cultural aspects of atmospheric moisture. The United States Geologic Survey says that “At any moment, the atmosphere contains about 37.5 million billion gallons of water…and this amount of water is recycled 40 times each year through the hydrological cycle.” This means  “the atmosphere may not be a great storehouse of water, but it is the superhighway that moves water around the globe.” While much of the water vapor in the atmosphere is largely invisible, in certain regions, like the San Francisco Bay Area, it is  visible as fog, which is a cause of many visibility issues in the area. Fog has become an important characteristic of the Bay Area landscape and it’s a part of its cultural identity. It’s a region famous for its dramatic fog, or perhaps infamous, depending on who one asks. A portion of this project explicitly investigates the legal regimes that regulate rain and fog capture and the cross-boundary issues that emerge from water that is claimed before it even reached the ground.


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See Also:

Fog, clouds, and rain: An atmospheric hydrosocial framework. APCG CSU Chico 2017.

Follow The Drop: A Hydro-Social Tour Of California H20, Vallejo 2017