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Summary of Proposal HYD3218

TitleFlood Regimes and Carbon Cycling in Anthropogenic Landscapes of the Bolivian Amazon
Investigator Erickson, Clark - University of Pennsylvania, Anthropology
Team Member
Dr. Widowski, Shimon - University of Miami, Division of Marine Geology and Geophysics
Dr. Erickson, Clark - University of Pennsylvania, Anthropology
Mr. Nicoll, Jeremy - Alaska Satellite Facility, ASF Deputy Director
Dr. Thayn, Jonathan - Illinois State University, Geography-Geology

We propose a multidisciplinary study of the hydrology within pre-Columbian landscapes of Amazonia and their implications for past and present Global Change, environmental conservation and management, and sustainable development.Our proposal focuses on the impact of pre-Columbian earthworks on the hydrology of wetlands. The discovery of raised fields, causeways, canals, fishweirs, and other earthworks throughout the Bolivian Amazon shows that pre-Columbian societies built a landscape that supported a complex culture. The past inhabitants built elaborate earthworks for controlling water, which sustained intensive agriculture, fisheries, and large settlements, and in some cases, high biodiversity. Our project maps the seasonal dynamics of regional floods and how native peoples managed water resources through earthworks. Mapping protocols are based on remote sensing of imagery from TerraSAR-X, NASA, and other institutions to facilitate computer modeling and temporal simulation of complex, dynamic landscapes. GIS and remote sensing will be verified using previous archaeological, ecological and pedological research. Principle goals include 1) constructing a detailed DEM for local and regional hydrology, 2) defining sources processes, and variation of seasonal flooding, 3) mapping and modeling waterflow before, during, and after annual flooding, 4) detecting and documenting pre-Columbian earthworks from remote sensing, combined with predictive modeling based on the signatures of known earthworks, 5) defining, modeling, and interpreting pre-Columbian landscape transformation, and 6) evaluating positive and negative impacts of human activities over time on local and regional hydraulic patterns through experimental modelling of pre-Columbian earthworks. This research will provide a foundation for future modeling of carbon production, flow, cycling,sequestration, and loss within anthropogenic landscapes. Time tested indigenous knowledge about long-term human-environment relationships may provide alternative and less destructive models for contemporary sustainable development in Amazonia.


We will use the amplitude and phase observables to detect inundation patterns, which will reveal information on the natural and anthropogenic drainage systems in the study areas.

Amplitude change detection:

SAR signal is sensitive to the presence of water above the ground surface for effectively mapping flooded areas. We will use several changes detection methods to identify the presence of surface water in the study areas and map the extent of inundation. By comparing amplitude images of successive acquisition during and after the rainy season, we will map drainage patterns and identify anthropogenic influence on the drainage.

Interferometric data processing:

Wetland InSAR is a relatively new application of the InSAR technique that detects water level changes in aquatic environments with emergent vegetation. Combined with all SAR data including X-band, the technique provides maps of water level changes with accuracy level of 3-4 cm. We will use TerraSAR-X data to produce water level change maps of study areas during and after the rainy season. These maps include the contribution of water sources(rainfall) and sinks (evaporation, drainage), which cannot always be separated.However, the analysis of change maps that reflect various rain conditions will allow us to determine drainage patterns in the study areas.

Data requirements

We request StripMap data of four study areas. The data should be acquired every repeat orbit (11 days) during and after the rainy season [October - July] to maintain interferometric coherence.


The project will deliver annual reports summarizing the TerraSAR-X data acquired for the project, data processing methods, results, and implications.

Funding Source

UNESCO support for archaeological research.

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DLR 2004-2016