The development of information infrastructures that make ecological research data available has increased in recent years, contributing to fundamental changes in ecological research. Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the subfield of Infrastructure Studies, which aims at informing infrastructures’ design, use, and maintenance from a social science point of view, provide conceptual tools for understanding data infrastructures in ecology. This perspective moves away from the language of engineering, with its discourse on physical structures and systems, to use a lexicon more “social” than “technical” to understand data infrastructures in their informational, sociological, and historical dimensions. It takes a holistic approach that addresses not only the needs of ecological research but also the diversity and dynamics of data, data work, and data management. STS research, having focused for some time on studying scientific practices, digital devices, and information systems, is expanding to investigate new kinds of data infrastructures and their interdependencies across the data landscape. In ecology, data sharing and data infrastructures create new responsibilities that require scientists to engage in opportunities to plan, experiment, learn, and reshape data arrangements. STS and Infrastructure Studies scholars are suggesting that ecologists as well as data specialists and social scientists would benefit from active partnerships to ensure the growth of data infrastructures that effectively support scientific investigative processes in the digital era.
Florence Millerand and Karen S. Baker
The Mississippi River, the longest in North America, is really two rivers geophysically. The volume is less, the slope steeper, the velocity greater, and the channel straighter in its upper portion than in its lower portion. Below the mouth of the Ohio River, the Mississippi meanders through a continental depression that it has slowly filled with sediment over many millennia. Some limnologists and hydrologists consider the transitional middle portion of the Mississippi, where the waters of its two greatest tributaries, the Missouri and Ohio rivers, join it, to comprise a third river, in terms of its behavioral patterns and stream and floodplain ecologies. The Mississippi River humans have known, with its two or three distinct sections, is a relatively recent formation. The lower Mississippi only settled into its current formation following the last ice age and the dissipation of water released by receding glaciers. Much of the current river delta is newer still, having taken shape over the last three to five hundred years. Within the lower section of the Mississippi are two subsections, the meander zone and the delta. Below Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the river passes through Crowley’s Ridge and enters the wide and flat alluvial plain. Here the river meanders in great loops, often doubling back on itself, forming cut offs that, if abandoned by the river, forming lakes. Until modern times, most of the plain, approximately 35,000 square miles, comprised a vast and rich—rich in terms of biomass production—ecological wetland sustained by annual Mississippi River floods that brought not just water, but fertile sediment—topsoil—gathered from across much of the continent. People thrived in the Mississippi River meander zone. Some of the most sophisticated indigenous cultures of North America emerged here. Between Natchez, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Old River Control, the Mississippi begins to fork into distributary channels, the largest of which is the Atchafalaya River. The Mississippi River delta begins here, formed of river sediment accrued upon the continental shelf. In the delta the land is wetter, the ground water table is shallower. Closer to the sea, the water becomes brackish and patterns of river sediment distribution are shaped by ocean tides and waves. The delta is frequently buffeted by hurricanes. Over the last century and a half people have transformed the lower Mississippi River, principally through the construction of levees and drainage canals that have effectively disconnected the river from the floodplain. The intention has been to dry the land adjacent to the river, to make it useful for agriculture and urban development. However, an unintended effect of flood control and wetland drainage has been to interfere with the flood-pulse process that sustained the lower valley ecology, and with the process of sediment distribution that built the delta and much of the Louisiana coastline. The seriousness of the delta’s deterioration has become especially apparent since Hurricane Katrina, and has moved conservation groups to action. They are pushing politicians and engineers to reconsider their approach to Mississippi River management.
Mohamed Ait-Kadi and Melvyn Kay
This is an immersive journey through different water management concepts. The conceptual attractiveness of concepts is not enough; they must be applicable in the real and fast-changing world. Thus, beyond the concepts, our long-standing challenge remains increasing water security. This is about stewardship of water resources for the greatest good of societies and the environment. It is a public responsibility requiring dynamic, adaptable, participatory, and balanced planning. It is all about coordination and sharing. Multi-sectoral approaches are needed to adequately address the threats and opportunities relating to water resources management in the context of climate change, rapid urbanization, and growing disparities. The processes involved are many and need consistency and long-term commitment to succeed. Climate change is closely related to the problems of water security, food security, energy security and environment sustainability. These interconnections are often ignored when policy-makers devise partial responses to individual problems. They call for broader public policy planning tools with the capacity to encourage legitimate public/collective clarification of the trade-offs and the assessment of the potential of multiple uses of water to facilitate development and growth. We need to avoid mental silos and to overcome the current piecemeal approach to solving the water problems. This requires a major shift in practice for organizations (governmental as well as donor organizations) accustomed to segregating water problems by subsectors. Our experience with integration tells us that (1) we need to invest in understanding the political economy of different sectors; (2) we need new institutional arrangements that function within increasing complexity, cutting across sectoral silos and sovereign boundaries; (3) top down approaches for resources management will not succeed without bottom-up efforts to help people improve their livelihoods and their capacity to adapt to increasing resource scarcity as well as to reduce unsustainable modes of production. Political will, as well as political skill, need visionary and strong leadership to bring opposing interests into balance to inform policy- making with scientific understanding, and to negotiate decisions that are socially accepted. Managing water effectively across a vast set of concerns requires equally vast coordination. Strong partnerships and knowledge creation and sharing are essential. Human civilization – we know- is a response to challenge. Certainly, water scarcity can be a source of conflict among competing users, particularly when combined with other factors of political or cultural tension. But it can also be an inducement to cooperation even in high tension areas. We believe that human civilization can find itself the resources to respond successfully to the many water challenges, and in the process make water a learning ground for building the expanded sense of community and sharing necessary to an increasingly interconnected world.