Relationships of Rivers: An Analysis of Hydropower Potential Data and Data Structure

Authors: Corrine Armistead*, Earth Economics
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: Data Structure, Hydropower Potential
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Jefferson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


With a changing climate and advancing technology, society’s understanding of nature is increasingly affected and reconfigured by attempts to map nature’s value. Whether designed to assess renewable energy potential, agricultural yield, or ecosystem services, geospatial databases assembled to accomplish these mappings are inherently constrained by the lens of political economic valuation on which they are built. Drawing from political ecology literature on the quantification of nature, this paper demonstrates the potential for data structures themselves, in addition to inputs and sources, to shape analyses of spatial information, in turn delimiting what can and cannot be known through the data. The New Stream-Reach Development Resource Assessment, a US initiative to map and quantify the nation’s untapped and investable rivers, serves as a case study. Environmental and energy potential data inputs for the Columbia River Basin are transferred from a geospatial to a graph database. In doing so, visualization shifts towards representing relationships – a key to conceptualizing how water and energy flow through our spaces, industries, and peoples. Through example queries, this paper discusses opportunities for a graph data structure to reshape and diversify the values emphasized in assessments of hydropower potential. While quantification remains necessarily incomplete, by highlighting relationships over traditional metrics such as Euclidean distance, graph databases can expand the ways in which nature and technical infrastructures are quantified, abstracted, and analyzed for resource potential.

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