Visualizing the 
Water-Energy Nexus

Research project
British Columbia, CAN & Pennsylvania, USA

2018 - ongoing

This project is a collaboration with Karen Bakker, Jenn Baka, Harrison Cole, Kirk Jalbert, and Andrew Butt. This project is supported by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant.

Part of this research was presented at the 2019 American Association of Geographers Annual Conference.
Over the past decade, the water-energy nexus has emerged as both a concept and a set of places, embedded in landscapes where energy production, social relations, and resource flows intersect. Visualizations of the nexus play a central role in shaping our understanding of water and energy systems and, in turn, influence societal perceptions and political decision-making processes. However, the role of visualizations in nexus research has received little critical attention.

This project interrogates the current visual discourse of the water-energy nexus. Our research reveals that the majority of nexus visualizations in the academic literature are non-spatial, atemporal, and decontextualized from the relational landscapes they purport to describe. We suggest that this can be attributed to the recent proliferation of digital environmental sensing technologies and the associated data architectures that construct the nexus as both a theory and as a place of study. While digital technologies and methodologies can indeed facilitate novel insights into the interrelationships between water and energy resources, we caution that an overreliance on computational methods might render nuanced socioecological relationships abstract, depoliticized, or even invisible.

1. Screenshot from a visualization depicting the growth of conventional and unconventional gas extraction in Western Canada, 1900-2018. Red points indicate conventional gas wells, blue points indicate unconventional gas wells.
2. Stacked axonometric image of land use demands on groundwater.