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Approaches to

Geomorphology
And Fundamental Principles
Fundamental Approach

A.k.a. Equilibrium or systematic approach


Fundamental Approach

Examines the relationships between present


form and process

Recognizes that constant adjustments occur to


maintain equilibrium

Who took this approach?


… Gilbert
Historical Approach
Examines the evolution of a landscape

Descriptive – qualitative approach


 Couldn’t measure very large areas

Forward: predict sequential development of


landscape
Backwards: trace the history of a landscape

Who took this approach?


… Davis
Pair ‘o dimes? No, paradigm!
PARADIGM: a philosophical and theoretical
framework of a scientific school or discipline
within which theories, laws, and
generalizations and the experiments
performed in support of them are formulated;
a pattern of thought.
Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary

Historical approach = paradigm for 50 years


 Davis was such a strong champion of the cause
Evolution of Ideas

Geomorphology outgrew Davis’ ideas


 Oversimplified and inadequate
 There never exists the stability in climate
and uplift required by the cycle of
erosion
1930 - 1965
A move away from qualitative
(descriptive) studies towards a
quantitative study of landforms

In other words …
… process and form
1960 - 1970
Major thrust = quantitative study of
geomorphic processes

General geomorphic principles


E.g. how does a raindrop cause erosion?

A new approach developed …


Climatic Geomorphology
The European connection

Basic premise: geomorphic mechanics vary in


type and rate according to the particular
climatic zone in which they function

In other words …
… climatic forces outweigh all other forces
Climatic Geomorphology
Over a period of time, climate generates
distinctive associations of landforms of
regional extent

Doesn’t it make sense that …

If we change the process (climate – more/less rain,


wind, ice, etc.) …
… then the form should change
BUT…

Applies best when:


 broad comparisons
 extreme climatic contrasts

Many argued against the validity


 Subtle changes in climate over space?
 Changes in climate over time?
1980’s

Geomorphic modeling

Predictive models of short-term landform


change
The Present

Applied geomorphology
 How humans are affected by the landscape
 How the landscape is affected by humans
What the Future Holds
Back to large scale
studies!
 We have the
technology!
 Understanding how
extensive areas of
landscapes change
over long periods of
time
 Davis revisited!
What the Future Holds

Tapping into ocean


sediments
 Detailed info on the
climatic and
erosional history of
Earth
What the Future Holds

Interplanetary studies
But in your immediate future…

An investigation into process


geomorphology
 How various forces change the landscape
 Characteristics of the resultant landform
6 Basic Principles of Process
Geomorphology
Landforms and the processes that form
them form part of a system

SYSTEM: A set of objects or characteristics


which are related to one another and which
operate together as a complex entity.
Landforms and the processes that form
them form part of a system

Change something = ripple effect

E.g. Drainage basin – amount of water –


amount of erosion – cuts valley sides – size of
floodplain – amount of channel area
Landforms and the processes that form
them form part of a system
Hierarchical properties of systems

A system may:
 be composed of numerous smaller systems;
and/or
 form part of a larger system

Ripple effect remains significant


Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

EQUILIBRIUM: Defining equilibrium … hmm


… that’s a tough one!

A balance between process and form


Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

form process

d e d
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

process

form

d
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

form

process

d
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

Equilibrium is as
exciting as watching
grass grow
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

Give me some
disequilibrium!
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

Geomorphologists are especially interested in


the limits of equilibrium
 When equilibrium turns into disequilibrium =
threshold
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

3 types of threshold
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them
Extrinsic : system responds to variations in
external factors

Intrinsic : instability occurs in the system even


though external variables remain relatively
constant

Geomorphic : external and internal variables


remain the same; it’s the shape/form of the
landform that changes
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them
But in reality … complex response

Remember, systems are hierarchical and


affected by the ripple effect so:
 Different parts of a system will reach threshold
levels at different times
 Threshold response occurs as a series of
responses
Some form of balance or equilibrium exists
between land forms and the processes that
create them

Why do you think that geomorphologists are


interested in thresholds?
The perceived balance between process and
form is created by the interaction of energy,
force, and resistance

A landform reflects a balance between:


 Resistance of the material being worked on
 Resisting forces

 The application of forces acting on the material


 Driving forces
The perceived balance between process and
form is created by the interaction of energy,
force, and resistance

A vast number of combinations of resisting


force and driving force account for the
incredible variety of landforms on earth
The perceived balance between process and
form is created by the interaction of energy,
force, and resistance
Resisting forces:
 Ultimately geologically-based

 The strength of a material to withstand destructive


pressures of driving forces acting on it

 Depends on:
 Lithology
 Structure
The perceived balance between process and
form is created by the interaction of energy,
force, and resistance

Driving force represents the application of


energy on the resisting framework

2 types of driving force


 Exogenic – from the outside
 Endogenic – from the inside
The perceived balance between process and
form is created by the interaction of energy,
force, and resistance

If there were no
endogenic forces …
… the Earth would
look like the Moon
If changes in the driving force/resistance stress
the system beyond the threshold, the system is
in disequilibrium and a major response may
occur

NEGATIVE FEEDBACK: original condition is


maintained after a change in the system

POSITIVE FEEDBACK: change in the system is


accentuated; snowball effect

Remember, it’s not a matter of one being good or bad,


they just ‘are’
Changes that occur in one process or landform
during an adjustment period often initiate
subsequent responses in totally different
processes and/or landforms

It’s that whole systems thing again!


Changes that occur in one process or landform
during an adjustment period often initiate
subsequent responses in totally different
processes and/or landforms

Mount St. Helens


May 18, 1980
Changes that occur in one process or landform
during an adjustment period often initiate
subsequent responses in totally different
processes and/or landforms
 Lava dome
 Earthquakes
 Massive debris avalanche
 Volcanic eruption
 Debris changed gradient
of stream channels
 Elevated channel floor
 Decreased cross-
sectional area
 More flooding
 Less vegetation
 More overland flow
 More erosion
 More sediment in
stream
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals
In process studies the time framework utilized
has a direct bearing on what conclusions can
be made regarding the relationship between
process and form

Field trip
 Gilbert (Dad) – maintaining form = equilibrium
 Davis – changing form = equilibrium
 Bajewsky = depends on the time scale
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals

3 time scales in geomorphology


Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals

Steady time
 No change in form
 Short term period

Static equilibrium
 Static = no change
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals
Graded time
 An average condition
maintained
 Periodic fluctuations
about the mean
 Medium term period

Steady state equilibrium


 Some ups, some downs,
but steady as she goes
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals

Cyclic time
 Gradual overall change
 Long term period

Dynamic equilibrium
 Some ups, some downs,
but steady as she goes
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals

And speaking of time…

There are great variations in the rates at which


geomorphic process operate:
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals

Comparing different processes:


 Glacial processes
 Mass movement
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals

Comparing within the same process:


 Mass movement
 Rockfalls
 Creep
Geomorphic analysis can be made over a
variety of time intervals

Frequency: The number of times an event of


a given magnitude occurs in a given time
period.

Recurrence interval: The amount of time


between events of the same magnitude.
A Question to Ponder …
Process and form changes over time and
space. Explain and give examples of
each:

Process – time
Process – space
Form – time
Form - space