Open Access Book Now Available: Rivers of the Anthropocene

Rivers of the Anthropocene Book CoverThe IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute and the Rivers of the Anthropocene project is proud to announce the publication of Rivers of the Anthropocene. Published by University of California Press, Rivers of the Anthropocene is available in print and as an open access publication through Luminos at

This exciting volume presents the work and research of the Rivers of the Anthropocene Network, an international collaborative group of scientists, social scientists, humanists, artists, policy makers, and community organizers working to produce innovative transdisciplinary research on global freshwater systems. In an attempt to bridge disciplinary divides, the essays in this volume address the challenge in studying the intersection of biophysical and human sociocultural systems in the age of the Anthropocene.

Featuring contributions from authors in a rich diversity of disciplines—from toxicology to archaeology to philosophy—this book is an excellent resource for students and scholars studying both freshwater systems and the Anthropocene.

Edited by Jason M. Kelly, Philip Scarpino, Helen Berry, James Syvitski, and Michel Meybeck, this volume emerged from a conference held at the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute. Contributors include Jeff Benjamin (PhD student, Columbia University); Helen Berry (Professor of History, Newcastle University); Tim Carter (President, Second Nature); Celia Deane-Drummond (Professor and Director of the Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame); Matt Edgeworth (Senior Project Officer for the Cambridge University Archaeology Unit; Honorary Research Fellow, University of Leicester); David Gilvear (Professor of River Science, Sustainable Earth Institute, Plymouth University); Stephanie C. Kane (Professor, Department of International Studies, Indiana University Bloomington); Jason M. Kelly (Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute; Associate Professor of History, IUPUI); Andy Large (Reader in River Science, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University); Laurence Lestel (Researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique); Ken Lubinski (Former Chief, River Ecology, U. S. Geological Survey, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center); Sina Marx (German Committee for Disaster Reduction, Bonn, Germany); Michel Meybeck (Emeritus Scientist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique); Mary Miss (Founder, City as Living Laboratory); Dinah Smith (Honorary Visiting Fellow, Department of Geology, University of Leicester); Philip Scarpino (Director, Public History Program at IUPUI;  Professor of History, IUPUI); Eleanor R. Starkey (Researcher, School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University); Jai Syvitski (Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System and Professor at University of Colorado, Boulder); Martin Thoms (Professor of River Science, Director of the Institute for Rural Futures, University of New England); Mark Williams (Professor of Palaeobiology, Department of Geology, University of Leicester); Jan Zalasiewicz (Professor of Palaeobiology, Department of Geology, University of Leicester).

Support for the conference and book publication came from the IU New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant program, the IUPUI Library, University of Colorado, and Newcastle University.

James Syvitski, “Rivers in the Anthropocene” January 2014

James Syvitski, “Rivers in the Anthropocene” January 2014
Rivers of the Anthropocene Conference at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (January 2014)

James Syvitski is Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System at University of Colorado, Boulder and Chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.

Charles Vörösmarty, “Rivers in the Anthropocene” (January 2014)

Charles Vörösmarty speaking on “Rivers in the Anthropocene” at the Rivers of the Anthropocene Conference at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis in January 2014.

Charles Vörösmarty is Presidential Professor in the Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York and Director of the CUNY Environmental Crossroads Initiative.

Claudia Pahl Wostl, “Water Governance in the Anthropocene” (January 2014)

Claudia Pahl Wostl speaks on “Water Governance in the Anthropocene” at the Rivers of the Anthropocene Conference at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis in January 2014.

Claudia Pahl-Wostl is Director and Professor of Resources Management at the Institute for Environmental Systems Research at the University of Osnabrück, Germany and Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Frank Biermann on Transdisciplinary Environmental Research

Frank Biermann


Frank Biermann is the Chair of the Earth System Governance Scientific Steering Committee.  Jon Turney has interviewed him for Future Earth.  In the interview, Biermann makes a case for the importance of transdisciplinary approaches to studying human-environmental entanglements:

It is very important to see how social scientists and natural scientists can work together. Earth system analysis is driven by an integrated computer-based approach that brings together models and modules of natural sciences as well as of some social sciences. This is a big issue for us because there are few modules currently available for modelling the human impact – we have some economic modules, we have some population models, but most of the social processes that really matter, such as democracy, power, interest, legitimacy, you can’t really put into such a computer model. This is a challenge for us: how can we deal with these kind of issues? We have to work together, but also preserve an independent social science programme, which is based on qualitative reasoning, and case studies. Some things can be quantified, but I’m not sitting there every morning thinking, how can I quantify what I do today?

Read the entire interview, “What is Earth System Governance” at the Future Earth website.

USGS, IUPUI Center for Earth and Environmental Science, and Rivers of the Anthropocene MURI Project Participate in Field Trip



Faculty and Students at Eagle Creek Dam
Faculty and Students at Eagle Creek Dam

July 11, 2013 was an exciting day for the undergraduate researchers and interns from IUPUI’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science and the Rivers of the Anthropocene Summer MURI students.  Led by representatives from the United States Geological Survey, including Martin Risch (Research Hydrologist, USGS Indiana Water Science Center) and Scott Morlock (Deputy Director, USGS Indiana Water Science Center) in collaboration with IUPUI professors Jason M. Kelly (History), Pam Martin (Earth Science), and Phil Scarpino (History), students got a first-hand look at Indianapolis’s water infrastructure.

The purpose of the trip was to examine Indianapolis’s attempts to control flooding and water quality by traveling along Eagle Creek, from downtown Indianapolis to Zionsville.

Below is an overview map of the locations that we visited.


View Eagle Creek Field Trip in a larger map




Levees on Eagle Creek
Levees on Eagle Creek, 10th and Lynhurst

The trip began at the USGS Gauge at Lynhurst Dr. and 10th Street in Indianapolis.  In order to mitigate flooding, levees have been constructed to control the flow of water.  This is why the channel appears to be so straight here.  Without human engineering, it is likely that the creek would have meandered more.

One of the responsibilities of the USGS is to monitor flow rates and depth.  Throughout the country, they have installed measuring gauges.  This gauge is solar powered and regularly sends information to a satellite so that the data can be compared to other points along the river.

USGS Flood Gauge
USGS Flood Gauge at 10th and Lynhurst, Indianapolis


Levees and flow measurement are central to Indianapolis’s flood control plan.  100 years ago, on March 23, 1913, 5 days of storms led to 12 inches of rainfall.  It created one of the most devastating floods in Indiana’s history.  Levees were breached and low lying areas were inundated with the rising water.  One flood gauge was washed away as the White River topped 30 feet.

In the 1920s and after, federal and city authorities began a centralized plan for flood control which included building levees and modifying channels along the White River’s tributaries.

Eagle Creek was central to the overall scheme, and in the 1960s, construction began on a dam that helped to manage water flow, provide drinking water to the city, and create a recreational  lake.  The Eagle Creek Dam was completed in 1968 and was the next location for the field trip.





The Eagle Creek Dam is 75 feet high and 5100 feet long.  It has 6 tainter gates, which are convex and better limit the stresses on the dam’s architecture.

Eagle Creek Dam
Eagle Creek Dam, Indianapolis, IN

Participants were able to take a trip inside the dam and get a sense of how it controls 5.6 million gallons of water per day.

Eagle Creek Dam
Preparing to descend into the dam
Tony at the dam
Tony having a look around the dam
Eagle Creek Dam
Tainter gate gauge
Eagle Creek Dam
The chains opening and closing the tainter gates
Eagle Creek Dam
Machines controlling the tainter gates
Eagle Creek Dam
Catwalk above the dam


Determining how much water flows through the dam on a given day requires a series of measurements using devices that range from simple floats to satellite technology that sends data from gauges further upstream.

So, for example, a Tipping Barrel Rain Gauge, which is situated upstream, might collect rainfall data.


If there is a significant amount of water, the dam operators can expect higher flows and may decide to release more water into the creek below the reservoir.  This will lower the level of the reservoir and allow them to control how much and when water flows into the city.

There are devices that measure flow, such as a pygmy meter, which captures the velocity of the water.


The USGS uses Bubbler Gauges to measure the depth of streams.  This tool releases nitrogen bubbles into the water.  The depth of the water determines the rate at which nitrogen is released (deeper water has higher pressure and lowers the release rate, which shallower water has lower pressure and increases the release rate).

Computers collect this data and send it to the USGS headquarters in Washington, D.C., which in turn distributes it to the regional USGS offices.  A centralized database is important because water systems are dynamic and interconnected.  A flood on the Wabash River, for example, will eventually flow into the Ohio River and then into the Mississippi River.  Those who are responsible for controlling water flow in Memphis, Tennessee will be very interested to know if there is flooding on the Ohio.  Likewise, agricultural and urban runoff entering the waterways can have significant effects downstream (see, for example, the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico).

USGS Zionsville
USGS representatives at the Eagle Creek stream gauge in Zionsville

After leaving Eagle Creek Reservoir, the group made a final stop at a USGS monitoring station in Zionsville.  There, they met more representatives from USGS who presented some of the most advanced equipment that they use to measure water flow, pollutants, and biological health.

The orange pontoon in the picture to the right is a sonar device that can measure stream flow.  Other pieces of equipment are submerged under the water and can send constant reports about chemicals and temperatures.

To learn more about how USGS is monitoring the health of the nation’s rivers, visit their website at

Special thanks to Martin Risch, Scott Morlock, Bret Robinson, Tim Lathrop, and Ed Dobrowolski for their informative presentations.

Rivers of the Anthropocene MURI Team Featured in IUPUI Center for Research and Learning Newsletter

MURI_Team_2013CRL Feature: A MURI Team

This month, the CRL would like to feature a Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Institute (MURI) team.  We are very excited to have a team led by Dr. Jason M. Kelly, Dr. Phil Scarpino and Dr. Owen Dwyer.  The students are working on “Rivers of the Anthropocene – Stage 1: A Comparative Study of the Ohio River and Tyne River Systems Since 1750” 

The team will create a methodological and conceptual framework that better integrates Earth Systems Science with the human sciences and the humanities.  Secondly, it will provide a model for interdisciplinary and comparative studies of Anthropocene rivers systems.  Students will create:

  • a 3-day academic symposium/workshop
  • open-source data sets of historical GIS data relating to the Ohio and Tyne River Systems
  • an open-access, peer-reviewed edited volume featuring articles, revised from papers given at the symposium
  • a co-written research paper submitted to a major academic science journal

The students participating on this project are: Anthony Bozzo (Anthropology), Jeremy Maxwell (History), Keenan Salla (History), Lynette Taylor (History) and Andrew Townsend (History).  Andrew Townsend said “I joined the MURI team to get experience working in a group doing real world work.  Also, I thought it would look good on my resume for grad school. We are researching the human impact on the Ohio River system and compiling information that will be made available to future researchers investigating human efforts to purposely transform their environment according to culturally dictated plans.”

Lynette Taylor went on to describe the project, “Our overall project is addressing the needs for interdisciplinary communication between humanities and sciences in regard to the human influence on the environment and climate change with a special focus on the riverine systems of the world. The current narrow focus is on a comparison of the River Tyne and the Ohio River as these two rivers are somewhat similar in geographic latitude, weather, and use. This first phase of the project is concerned with creating a searchable metadata database that contains a comprehensive collection of available data on the river watershed foci. This database will be incredibly helpful to people in nearly every discipline from history through geology in providing a one-stop repository of information.”

Jeremy Maxwell stated, “The mentors that I’m working with are great. Dr. Scarpino is experienced and really knows his stuff Dr. Dwyer is really chill and great to work with. Dr. Kelly is a genius. He also wears colorful socks, so he has that going for him.”

Water in the Anthropocene



Water in the Anthropocene is a 3-minute film charting the global impact of humans on the water cycle.

Evidence is growing that our global footprint is now so significant we have driven Earth into a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene.

Human activities such as damming and agriculture are changing the global water cycle in significant ways.

The data visualisation was commissioned by the Global Water Systems Project for a major international conference (Water in the Anthropocene, Bonn, Germany, 21-24 May, 2013).

As datasets build upon one another, the film charts Earth’s changing global water cycle, why it is changing, and what this means for the future. The vertical spikes that appear in the film represent the 48,000 large dams that have been built.

The film was produced by Globaïa and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. //

The film is part of the first website on the concept of humans as a geological force,

– Base map: NASA, Natural Earth, Globaïa
– Total precipitation: GEOS-5 —
– Ocean currents: OSCAR —
– Dams & Reservoir capacity: GRanD —
– Cities: VIIRS 2012 —
– Cropland (North America): Agriculture Lands 2000 —
– Anthroposphere: Several sources, see Cartography of the Anthropocene on Globaïa’s website —
– Sea ice: Sea Ice for Science on a Sphere —
– Rivers: NGIA vMAP —
– Lakes: Global Lakes and Wetlands Database —
– Human Water Security Index: Adjusted HWS Threat —

Earlyguard —
Jana Winderen —

Scientific sponsors:
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
Stockholm Resilience Centre
Future Earth
Credits at the end of the film will be altered to reflect this sponsor list.