EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Towards a quantification of the water planetary boundary

Lan Wang-Erlandsson1, Tom Gleeson2, Fernando Jaramillo3, Samuel C. Zipper4, Dieter Gerten5, Arne Tobian5, Miina Porkka1, Agnes Pranindita1, Ruud van der Ent6, Patrick Keys7, Ingo Fetzer1, Matti Kummu8, Anna Chrysafi8, Will Steffen9, Hubert Savenije6, Makoto Taniguchi10, Line Gordon1, Sarah Cornell1, Arie Staal1, Yoshihide Wada11, and the et. al.*
Lan Wang-Erlandsson et al.
  • 1Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden (
  • 2University of Victoria, Canada
  • 3Stockholm University, Stockholm Sweden
  • 4Kansas Geological Survey, University of Kansas, USA
  • 5Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany
  • 6Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands
  • 7Colorado State University. USA
  • 8Aalto University, Finland
  • 9Australia National University, Australia
  • 10Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan
  • 11Conservation International, USA
  • *A full list of authors appears at the end of the abstract

The planetary boundaries framework defines nine Earth system processes that together demarcate a safe operating space for humanity at the planetary scale. Freshwater - the bloodstream of the biosphere - is an obvious member of the planetary boundary framework.  Water fluxes and stores play a key role for the stability of the Earth’s climate and the world’s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Recent work has proposed to represent the water planetary boundary through six sub-boundaries based on the five primary water stores, i.e., atmospheric water, soil moisture, surface water, groundwater, and frozen water. In order to make it usable on all spatial scales we examine bottom-up and top-down approaches for quantification of the water planetary boundary. For the bottom-up approaches, we explore possible spatially distributed variables defining each of the proposed sub-boundaries, as well as possible weighting factors and keystone regions that can be used for aggregation of the distributed water sub-boundaries to the global scale. For the top-down approaches, we re-examine the stability of key biomes and tipping elements in the Earth System that may be crucially influenced by water cycle modifications. To identify the most appropriate variables for representing the water planetary boundary, we evaluate the range of explored variables with regard to scientific evidence and scientific representation using a hierarchy-based evaluation framework. Finally, we compare the highest ranked top-down and bottom-up approaches in terms of the scientific outcome and implications for governance. In sum, this comprehensive and systematic identification and evaluation of variables, weighting factors, and baseline conditions provides a detailed basis for the future operational quantification of the water planetary boundary. 

et. al.:

Pamela Collins (12), Obbe Tuinenburg (13), Malin Falkenmark (1), Carl Folke (1), Johan Rockström (5).

How to cite: Wang-Erlandsson, L., Gleeson, T., Jaramillo, F., Zipper, S. C., Gerten, D., Tobian, A., Porkka, M., Pranindita, A., van der Ent, R., Keys, P., Fetzer, I., Kummu, M., Chrysafi, A., Steffen, W., Savenije, H., Taniguchi, M., Gordon, L., Cornell, S., Staal, A., and Wada, Y. and the et. al.: Towards a quantification of the water planetary boundary , EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-20525,, 2020.


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