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Rebecca Manners ’04—Geography

Geography, geology and anthropology are all fields that interested Dartmouth senior Rebecca Manners as an undergraduate. But when she had to choose a topic for her senior thesis, the choice was easy—all three.

Manners has chosen to combine interests from across multiple disciplines in order to explore a subject she’s passionate about.

“My first year I worked with Professor [of Geography] Frank Magilligan as an intern in the Women in Science Project, and I discovered geography,” she said. During the WISP internship that allows many first-year women to work for two academic terms with science, math and engineering faculty, Manners delved into the field of fluviogeomorphology—the study of water’s effects on land forms.

Four years later, with Magilligan’s help, she identified a thesis project in the Moquegua Valley of southern Peru, in the middle of the driest desert on earth. While this may seem a peculiar location for someone interested in water, Manners says it actually offers a perfect crucible for the study of the way water changes landscape—and culture.

“Though [it] may get just a few inches of rain a year, flooding along the Moquegua River does occur and is affected by El Niño and snowmelt coming down from the Andes,” Manners says. “The area available to farmers is very narrow on both sides of the river. When floods come through, they can wash away a significant portion of the arable land, and that can cause significant landscape change, perhaps contributing to population migration.”

Last summer Manners, along with Magilligan, traveled to Peru to plot the path of the river. They walked 26 miles noting the boundary between channel and floodplain.

“By looking at the loss of arable land due to contemporary floods and the time it takes for the land to be cultivated again, I can compare this to the larger historical record and get a sense of the long-term effects of flooding on culture,” she says.

Manners has chosen to combine interests from across multiple disciplines in order to explore a subject she’s passionate about.

 
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