Help Privacy Policy Disclaimer
  Advanced SearchBrowse




Journal Article

Random River: Luna Leopold and the Promise of Chance in Fluvial Geomorphology


Benson,  Etienne Samuel
External, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Society;

External Resource

(Any fulltext)

Fulltext (restricted access)
There are currently no full texts shared for your IP range.
Fulltext (public)
There are no public fulltexts stored in PuRe
Supplementary Material (public)
There is no public supplementary material available

Benson, E. S. (2020). Random River: Luna Leopold and the Promise of Chance in Fluvial Geomorphology. Journal of Historical Geography, 67, 14-23. doi:10.1016/j.jhg.2019.10.007.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-CBB1-9
Luna B. Leopold was a hydrologist and fluvial geomorphologist who headed the Water Resource Division of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1957 to 1966 and was one of the leaders of the postwar quantitative revolution in geomorphology. Like other quantitative geomorphologists of his generation, he turned to numbers partly to strengthen his professional authority in policy debates, particularly those concerning a looming ‘}water crisis{’ in the United States. This paper traces the traces the evolution of Leopold's thought from the 1950s to the 1970s, when he turned from seeking universal empirical regularities in river processes to arguing that fluvial systems were inherently indeterminate and unpredictable. While this position was largely rejected by Leopold's scientific colleagues, it was embraced by members of the emerging environmental movement, for whom Leopold's stochastic understanding of rivers provided a seemingly authoritative rationale for the position that complete control and prediction of river systems would always remain out of reach. More broadly, this case shows how quantitative imprecision and uncertainty can sometimes be advantageous for experts seeking to establish authority in a contested policy domain.