More than a hundred hydropower dams have already been built in the Amazon basin and numerous proposals for further dam constructions are under consideration. The accumulated negative environmental effects of existing dams and proposed dams, if constructed, will trigger massive hydrophysical and biotic disturbances that will affect the Amazon basin’s floodplains, estuary and sediment plume. We introduce a Dam Environmental Vulnerability Index to quantify the current and potential impacts of dams in the basin. The scale of foreseeable environmental degradation indicates the need for collective action among nations and states to avoid cumulative, far-reaching impacts. We suggest institutional innovations to assess and avoid the likely impoverishment of Amazon rivers.

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This research was supported in part by NSF grants (FESD-1338694, EAR-1147954 and DDRI-1558446), a NASA grant (NAG5-6120), a National Geographic Society-Research and Exploration Grant (8855-10), LLILAS-Mellon, the Brazilian Council for Scientific and Technological Development-CNPq and the CAPES Foundation.

Author information


  1. University of Texas at Austin, Department of Geography and the Environment, Austin, Texas, USA

    • Edgardo M. Latrubesse
    • , Eugenio Y. Arima
    • , Edward Park
    •  & Charles Wight
  2. Earth Observatory of Singapore and Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

    • Edgardo M. Latrubesse
  3. University of California at Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, Santa Barbara, California, USA

    • Thomas Dunne
  4. University of Arizona, Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, Tucson, Arizona, USA

    • Victor R. Baker
  5. National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA), Manaus, Brazil

    • Fernando M. d’Horta
    • , Jansen Zuanon
    •  & Camila C. Ribas
  6. Institute of Floodplain Ecology, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Rastatt, Germany

    • Florian Wittmann
  7. Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, Durham, USA

    • Paul A. Baker
  8. Yachay Tech, Geological Sciences, Urcuquí, Ecuador

    • Paul A. Baker
  9. University of California at Berkeley, Energy and Resources Group, Berkeley, California, USA

    • Richard B. Norgaard
  10. Federal University of Amazonas, Department of Geography, Manaus, Brazil

    • Naziano Filizola
  11. University of Oxford, Saïd Business School, Oxford, UK

    • Atif Ansar
    •  & Bent Flyvbjerg
  12. State University of Sao Paulo (UNESP-Rio Claro), Department of Applied Geology, Rio Claro, Brazil

    • Jose C. Stevaux


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E.M.L. initiated this research, conceived the multidisciplinary methodology, and coordinated the manuscript. All authors extensively contributed to the writing and analysis of results. E.M.L., E.P. and C.W. developed the database on dams. E.Y.A., C.W. and E.P. performed Geographic Information System analysis. E.P. performed remote sensing work.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Edgardo M. Latrubesse.

Reviewer Information

Nature thanks J. Best, B. Sovacool, H. ter Steege and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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