A couple of people (that is, about 50% of the blog’s readership) have asked about the “Jedi” reference in the Jedi Geoscience label. It comes from a PhD student about 10 years ago. After I answered his methodological question about his fieldwork, he good-naturedly suggested that my advice was about as helpful as if I had told him, like the Jedi Knights in the Star Wars movies, to “use the force.” After this story made the rounds, some of the grad students at Kentucky at the time referred to me as the “Jedi Geomorphologist.”
And now you know.
Jedi Geomorphologist using the force.
Episode five of Office Hours is here! Join us as we talk to Professor Matt Wilson about his work with "critical GIS," what new intitiatives he has in store for the Geography department, and his time as a guest lecturer at a little-known university called Harvard.
Some form of the diagram below is often used as a pedagogical tool, and to represent a theoretical framework, in fluvial geomorphology, hydrology, and river science. It is called a Lane Diagram, and originated in a publication by E.W. Lane in 1955:
The diagram shows that stream degradation (net erosion and incision) and aggradation (net deposition) responds to changes in the relationship between sediment supply (amount of sediment, Qs, and typical sediment size, D50) and sediment transport capacity (a function of discharge or flow, Qw, and slope, S). The diagram is a very helpful metaphor in understanding the sediment supply vs. transport capacity relationship, and its effects on channel aggradation or degradation.
Nicholas Pinter, a Southern Illinois University geomorphologist, gave a nice talk yesterday on rivers and flooding in the 21st century as part of UK’s Water Week. Pinter’s talk got me to thinking about the concept of “equilibrium” in environmental systems and what it means to both geoscientists and laypersons. Pinter correctly noted that rivers tend toward dynamic equilibrium, and more specifically, dynamic metastable equilibrium. This means three things: First, the system (river) is more or less constantly changing (the dynamic part). Second, equilibrium is of the type envisioned in mathematics and systems theory—that is, a state or condition the system settles into after a change or perturbation, with no further connotation other than that the response to the change has run its course (I’ve called this “relaxation time equilibrium” in my work). Third, “metastable” means that these equilibrium states are not necessarily stable and self-maintaining, and may be sensitive to future disturbances—even relatively small ones. Pinter’s message is that dynamic equilibrium in rivers means that rivers are constantly changing.
Explaining and understanding Earth surface systems almost always requires some triangulation between three different sets of factors. The first, examples of which are shown on the lower left corner of the triangle below, are general principles and relationships that apply everywhere and always. Second, on the upper point, are environmental factors--characteristics of locations and regions such as climate, geology, etc. On the lower right of the triangle is the third set of factors, related to past events and time available for the system to develop.
This can be generalized as laws, place, and history, as shown below.
Yesterday I was honored to give the annual Linton Award lecture to the British Society for Geomorphology at the University of Manchester. Many thanks to the BSG for making my attendance possible, and to the U. Manchester geography department for putting on a good meeting. This is the abstract of my talk, entitled Badass Geomorphology:
Yesterday I heard a very interesting river restoration workshop at the British Society for Geomorphology meeting. What I’m about to discuss was not the focus of the workshop, but it was triggered by thinking about geomorphology, hydrology, and river science in stream rehabilitation and restoration, which is a big business now.
The stream restoration problem is often portrayed as something like this:
That is, the stream is currently in some kind of degraded, suboptimal, unwanted state. The goal is to restore it to a “natural” or some more desired condition, often conceived as whatever the stream was like before the degradation commenced. There are a number of problems with this, one being that in many cases the pre-existing state is not known. Even if it is, since rivers—like other landforms and ecosystems—are dynamic and changeable, there is no particular scientific reason to believe that, in the absence of human-driven changes, the river would still be now as it was decades ago.