Marco Clark traveled to southwest China to study the effects of dam construction.

Marco Clark
Marco Clark

Marco Clark’s expedition to the Nu River Valley in southwestern China was off to a difficult start. Checkpoints lined the highway, blocking access to villages near the Nu, where there are plans to construct as many as thirteen dams. Even though Clark needed to get to the villages to do his research, he was reluctant to approach the checkpoints.

This challenge came as no surprise to Clark; his prior experiences in China had taught him to expect the unexpected. Still, he was nervous about the sensitivity of his research topic: human behavior in the face of an immediate environmental threat. But Clark continued to trek — mostly by bus or foot — approximately 230 miles up the Nu River Valley in search of an accessible village.

Clark’s research is associated with a cross-disciplinary project at OSU that unites the departments of Biological and Ecological Engineering, Anthropology, and Geosciences in order to examine the social, economic and ecological effects of dams on the Nu and Upper Mekong Rivers in China. Currently, China is the international leader in dam construction, and the project is being developed with the intent of assisting China in their quest for renewable energy. Clark’s interviews with villagers and political leaders will provide a better understanding of the effects of dam construction on people and the environment.

As an undergraduate studying political science at OSU, Clark developed an interest in human behavior. “I wanted to study how people feel about their environment and how they respond when that environment is threatened,” Clark says. Clark had visited China three times while pursuing an International Degree and was inspired to return. Currently in his second year of graduate study in anthropology, Clark was able to conduct more fieldwork in China with the help of a generous grant from the Institute for Water and Watersheds (IWW).

“Marco has done a great job of treading lightly and making good relationships,” says Bryan Tilt, Clark’s academic adviser and assistant professor of anthropology. “He was able to create connections in the area of his fieldwork through his excellent people skills.”

Clark improvised as he neared the Tibetan border, hiking two hours from the main road until he happened upon a privately owned dam under the support of the provincial government. The dam, near the village Dimaluo, was still undergoing construction when Clark came upon it. “The community was very removed and felt more secure,” Clark says. “It felt like a suitable place to be.” Dimaluo was where Clark would conduct his research.

While in Dimaluo, Clark was greeted warmly by the community. He formed a lasting friendship with a man named Aluo, who invited Clark into his home to stay with his family. Aluo assisted Clark with his interviews in exchange for English instruction and help translating for foreign guests.

Clark hopes that his research will help other scientists and policymakers better understand the potential impacts of dam construction, including the displacement and resettlement of villagers.

Clark is still deciding what to do after he receives his degree from OSU in 2009. He is thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. in order to teach and continue researching at a university. He is also thinking of continuing developmental work for either a governmental or non-governmental organization.

“Both of these paths will keep me involved in research in developing countries,” Clark says. “By completing assessments on the needs of small communities I hope to continue to help improve others’ quality of life.”

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