Cities as Forces for Good Network

Understanding the metabolism of urban-rural ecosystems: A multi-sectoral systems analysis

Papers · October 5th, 2012

Download paper as PDF

R. Villarroel Walker and M. B. Beck (2012). Published in Urban Ecosystems.

A Multi-sectoral Systems Analysis (MSA) methodology is presented as a tool for identifying the level of importance of flows of energy and materials (water, nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon) as they pass through an anthropogenically manipulated system. That system comprises a web of processes, across a total of five industrial sectors: water, forestry, food, energy and waste management. Given the heterogeneous nature and quality of data sources, the propagation of data uncertainty is considered through a Regionalized Sensitivity Analysis (RSA) procedure, based on the Monte Carlo simulation approach. The MSA reveals the advantages of studying different material cycles simultaneously, in addition to interpreting them individually, while gaining insight into the magnitude of the associated flows. The proposed framework is illustrated for a case study of the Upper Chattahoochee Watershed, in which parts of Metro Atlanta are located. Results show that natural flows are predominant in the water and energy cycles. Direct human manipulations of water, i.e., withdrawals for public supply and power generation, are less than 25% of the amount received as precipitation. Solar input is 200 times the total demand for electricity. Apart from sun-light, gasoline for transportation is the flow with the largest content of energy; it is responsible for providing 71% of the total demand of fuels for uses other than power generation. In contrast, cycles of nutrients such as N and C are strongly related to the flows of fuels, mainly coal and natural gas. In a second tier, fertilizer use and the poultry industry in the region are significant for the use of nitrogen. Phosphorus fluxes are similarly dominated by the food sector and, as a consequence, to a lesser extent by the water sector, because of water’s role as a waste-conveyance medium.

Download paper as PDF

Back Top