The Importance of Nexus Tools for Integrated Management of Water, Soil and Waste

  • 2015/08/06


    20 July 2015, Dresden. – The sustainable management of any environmental resource requires truly looking at the big picture. It requires taking all environmental, economic and social interdependencies and relationships into consideration, across spatial and temporal scales. It requires a Nexus Approach. However, all the processes and their interconnections outlined above are too complex to solve with a simple calculation. Thanks to rapid advances in computer technology, numerous software tools that can mathematically support our understanding of Nature’s complex interactions and feedback systems have been developed.

    The Importance of Nexus Tools for Integrated Management of Water, Soil and Waste to help researchers and practitioners alike visualize and represent such complex systems, was the topic of Dr. Theresa Mannschatz’s presentation on Monday 20 July 2015. Mannschatz is a researcher in the Systems and Flux Analysis Considering Global Change Assessment unit at the United Nations University Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES). This lecture was the fifth segment of the Nexus Seminar Series, a collaboration between the UNU-FLORES and the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at the Technische Universität Dresden.

    Mannschatz emphasized that the relationship and feedback systems between natural processes and socio-economic factors is far too complex to be able to consider exhaustively in a single modelling tool. For this reason, most tools are models that represent and simulate reality in a simplified manner and often focus on a specific area of application. In parallel to the technological developments, knowledge gained through nexus-oriented research has been and is continuously incorporated into these tools.

    The complexity of Earth’s natural and social systems is not a new revelation. Researchers and decision makers have been grappling with this for many years, and developed many useful tools to help them do so. However, the use of modelling tools that can capture the nexus is still the exception in resource management. In her presentation, Mannschatz argues that this is certainly a consequence of that fact that it is hard to find the right tool. On the one hand, the large diversity of available models is often overwhelming. It is difficult to select or even find the most appropriate model or set of models that can be applied to specific projects or accommodate specific site requirements. On the other hand, Mannschatz explained, information concerning the variety of tools available and the appropriate methods for applying them is scattered, not accessible, incomplete, out of date, static or simply hard to compare. Although the data necessary for many modelling tools are available online, the description of these models and how to use them are often hidden separately in long, scholarly texts. Those interested in using the tools are often required to make the connection between the description of the tool and the necessary data themselves.

    As a result, researchers frequently choose to develop their own, new models or use the models they already know even though they are not the most appropriate. In the practice of nexus modelling, the wheel is reinvented almost on a monthly basis because it is simply too difficult to find a comprehensible model inventory. However, making use of available successful models is more effective and cost-efficient than developing new models from scratch, Mannschatz argues, and frankly more feasible for most interested parties.

    Confronted with these circumstances – the necessity to apply the nexus approach to resource management and the lack of concentrated/channelled information about the tools available to do so – Mannschatz spearheaded a project, together with Dr. Stephen Hülsmann, at UNU-FLORES to develop the Nexus Tools Platform (NTP). The NTP is an open-access, web-based platform that serves as a database for modelling tools and allows for their interactive comparison. It is hosted on the Nexus Observatory.

    Mannschatz focused first on collecting, consolidating and making available information on modelling tools for managing the Water-Soil-Waste Nexus. While many of these tools are integrative, the inherent complexity of the Water-Soil-Waste Nexus makes it nearly impossible for a single model to address all aspects under all circumstances. This is why, Mannschatz pointed out, it is crucial that researchers and decision makers have access to a mechanism, which effectively helps to navigate through the confusing sea of available tools and facilitates the selection of the most appropriate model or suite of models to address a specific nexus problem. To this end, Mannschatz explains, the NTP was developed from the beginning as open-access, interactive database.

    UNU-FLORES is currently looking for a new team member to support the continued growth and maintenance of the Nexus Tools Platform. For more information see our vacancy announcement page.