Amazon Dams Network: Advancing Integrative Research and Adaptive Management of Social-ecological Systems Transformed by Hydroelectric Dams

The Amazon basin is the largest freshwater system in the world, providing critical ecosystem services to local populations, national societies and humanity at large. Today in the Brazilian Amazon, construction of more than 30 large hydroelectric dams, and approximately 170 smaller dams on tributaries of the Amazon River are underway as a result of long-term governmental plans geared toward increased energy security, economic growth, improved living standards and industrialization. Despite the long history of hydropower development in Brazil, the synergistic, cumulative and long-term effects of dams on rivers, forests, and social systems are still undervalued in planning and decision-making. Uncertainty about the social-ecological effects of dam construction is due in large part to the existing piecemeal approach to analyzing the impacts of dams. This uncertainty highlights an urgent need for coordinated research. The Amazon Dams Network will bring together a diverse set of stakeholders, including fishermen, indigenous peoples, farmers, scientists, students, and decision-makers to address this need. Working together, the network will integrate and coordinate research on how dam construction and operations affect people, their livelihoods, and the environment. Sharing of knowledge, data and technology will occur through workshops, case-study modules, a bilingual website, maps, and published data and papers.

The goal of the Amazon Dams Network is to advance inter- and trans-disciplinary research coordination, focusing on the transformation of social-ecological systems by hydroelectric dam construction in the Amazon and United States. The geographical focus initially includes the Tocantins, Madeira and Xingu River watersheds in the Amazon and the Colorado River watershed in the US. Network activities will focus on four critical integrative themes: a) governance and social actors (an overarching and cross-cutting theme that mediates interactions and outcomes in dammed systems); b) watershed hydrology and geomorphology; c) fish and fisheries; and d) land-use/land-cover change. Focal intersections among these themes to be addressed by the network include feedbacks between hydrologic change and forest ecosystems; human geographic dislocations and land-use change; monitoring and mitigation approaches for Brazilian dams; and the relevance of local knowledge (fishermen, indigenous peoples, riparian communities) for the study and management of systems transformed by infrastructure development. The network will enable data discovery and synthesis, sharing of knowledge, and inter- and transdisciplinary and social learning among participants and the public through a series of activities held at research sites in Brazil and the US, the creation of web-based learning and case studies modules, and the archiving of publically available data.

Lead Investigator: