Virtual water management in the Roman world

B.J. Dermody, R.P.H. van Beek, E. Meeks, K. Klein Goldewijk, W. Scheidel, Y. van der Velde, M.F.P. Bierkens, M.J. Wassen, S.C. Dekker

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Abstract Climate change can have extreme societal impacts particularly in regions that are water-limited for agriculture. A society’s ability to manage its water resources in such environments is critical to its long-term viability. Water management can involve improving agricultural yields through in-situ irrigation or the redistribution of virtual water resources through trade in food. Here, we explore how such water management strategies improve societal resilience by examining virtual water management during the Roman Empire in the water-limited region of the Mediterranean. Climate was prescribed based on previously published reconstructions which show that during the Roman Empire when the Central Mediterranean was wetter, the West and Southeastern Mediterranean became drier and vice-versa. Evidence indicates that these shifts in the climatic seesaw may have occurred relatively rapidly. Using the Global hydrological model PCR GLOBWB and estimates of landcover based on the HYDE dataset we generate potential agricultural yield maps under two extremes of this climatic seesaw. HYDE estimates of population in conjunction with potential yield estimates are used to identify regions of Mediterranean with a yield surplus or deficit. The surplus and deficit regions form nodes on a virtual water redistribution network with transport costs taken from the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World (ORBIS). Our demand-driven, virtual water redistribution network allows us to quantitatively explore the importance of water management strategies such as irrigation and food trade for the Romans. By examining virtual water transport cost anomalies between climate scenarios our analysis highlights regions of the Mediterranean that were most vulnerable to climate change during the Roman Period.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventAGU 2013 Fall Meeting, San Francisco, California -
Duration: 9 Dec 201313 Dec 2013


ConferenceAGU 2013 Fall Meeting, San Francisco, California


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