Dr. Shaw Lacy has published research in The Geographical Journal, together with Prof. Luca Mao (University of Lincoln, formerly at the Departamento de Ecosistemas y Medio Ambiente), and Prof. Piergiorgio Digiminiani (Programa de Antropología) titled, “What Defines a River? Modelling the interplay between physical and social driving factors in characterizing the waterways in Chile.” The article is available at DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12262. The research examines the ways in which Chilean rivers are categorized from the arid north, through the Mediterranean center, to the subpolar south of the country.
Although climate, topography, and geology can create a large spectrum of waterways, societies have categorized this variety of waterways into different categories, with “river” (río) generally being determined as the largest set of waterways in an area. However, this is a highly relative definition, and fails to adequately account for the variety of ways in which climates can shape hydrological regimes. Indeed, Chile presents a great example in which to examine the ways in which society and climate have mixed together to define the narrow waterway of the Lluta in Northern Chile as “río” even though its active channel is narrower than even an average sized estero in the Biobío basin.
The categorization of natural landscape features places a socialized and ordered lens on the landscape. In the case of natural waterways, it creates a regional hydrologic vocabulary, based in physical processes and cultural history. This study uses the unique combination of hydrological and cultural characteristics found in Chile to determine the degree to which local waterway classifications of waterways as rivers (río in Spanish) provides insights to the cultural role in perceiving and describing such important landscape elements. The results indicate that waterway classification is strongly influenced by different regional cultural perspectives, which are also affected by their regional climates and specific historical processes of cartographic systematization and nation-making. This variety of hydrologic vocabularies presents distinct zones of waterway classification throughout Chile, with implications of these differences affecting territorial planning, water management, and even international relations.