Tapping environmental history to recreate America's colonial hydrology

Christopher L. Pastore, Mark B. Green, Daniel J. Bain, Andrea Muñoz-Hernandez, Charles J. Vörösmarty, Jennifer Arrigo, Sara Brandt, Jonathan M. Duncan, Francesca Greco, Hyojin Kim, Sanjiv Kumar, Michael Lally, Anthony J. Parolari, Brian Pellerin, Nira Salant, Adam Schlosser, Kate Zalzal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


By synthesizing published scientific studies with contemporary data sets and corroborating those results with the ork of environmental historians, we believe it is possible to reconstruct colonial American hydrology on the regional scale. Such an endeavor, we believe, would be of broad utility of the environmental sciences because understanding the ways humans shaped the hydrology of the past is vital to our understanding of the present and future. Our conceptual model centralizes the role of humans in the hydrologic cycle and considers human-induced feedback loops with respect to changes to land cover, engineering, and climate. Furthermore, we propose that integrative hydrologic metrics effectively quantify hydrologic change because they can organize wide-ranging datasboth natural and humaninduced variationssinto numeric results. Using metrics, it is possible to compare, contrast, and even rank the drivers of hydrologic change according to their level of impact over time. Finally, our work also unde scores the importance of forging scholarly ties between the sciences and humanities. For hydrologists, corroborating and calibrating scientific data with historical records and even qualitative historical accounts can increase the accuracy of their work. Our work largely synthesized existing literature and published primary sources, but further analysis and integration of archival historical sources into scientific work is needed and will generate an even more precise picture of the U.S.'s ecological past. For historians, empirical understanding of human-water interactions can shed new light on such topics as patterns of human settlement and competition over resources. Hydrologic models can support historical evidence. The synthetic processsone in which historians, geographers, hydrologists, ecologists, and biologists are forced to grapple with the pressing questions of other fieldssencourages scholars to inform their own work with new insights and new perspectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8798-8803
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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