Abstract for: Exploratory system dynamics: a directed search for limits to global water use

Rockström et al. (2009) introduced the concept of a safe operating space for humanity that will not push the planet out of the ‘Holocene state’. Establishing the limits of this operating space is ongoing for various earth bound systems. Estimates of these limits are plagued by uncertainty. In case of the limits to the world water system, these uncertainties arise out of conflicting models, regional variations, limitation of expansion of water use through financial and institutional capacity, uncertainty about the realization and efficiency of trans-boundary water transfers, and interdependency between the water system and other earth systems. This paper aims at investigating the limits to global freshwater use. To this end, the behavior of a System Dynamic model of the world water balance is explored across a wide variety of uncertainties. Active non-linear testing is used to identify the best case and worst case for water stress and world population. We find counter intuitive results related to the occurrence of maximum water stress, conclude that global limits can be investigated with a spatially aggregated model and are strengthened in our hypotheses that exploratory modeling adds to the understanding of complex and uncertain issues in a way that predictive approaches cannot.