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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Jul 8;100(14):8080-5. Epub 2003 Jun 18.

Illustrating the coupled human-environment system for vulnerability analysis: three case studies.

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  • 1Graduate School of Geography and George Perkins Marsh Institute, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01602, USA.


The vulnerability framework of the Research and Assessment Systems for Sustainability Program explicitly recognizes the coupled human-environment system and accounts for interactions in the coupling affecting the system's responses to hazards and its vulnerability. This paper illustrates the usefulness of the vulnerability framework through three case studies: the tropical southern Yucatán, the arid Yaqui Valley of northwest Mexico, and the pan-Arctic. Together, these examples illustrate the role of external forces in reshaping the systems in question and their vulnerability to environmental hazards, as well as the different capacities of stakeholders, based on their access to social and biophysical capital, to respond to the changes and hazards. The framework proves useful in directing attention to the interacting parts of the coupled system and helps identify gaps in information and understanding relevant to reducing vulnerability in the systems as a whole.

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