jdp's blog

  • Professor of Earth Surface Systems
  • Geography
877 Patterson Office Tower
(859) 257-6950
Other Affiliations:
  • Tobacco Road Research Team
  • New Disciples of Soil
  • Blue Cats Research Group (Czech Republic)

THE PERFECT PLANET

Did you ever wish you had a collection of these blog posts, all semi-organized in one quasi-coherent document? No? Well, you can get one anyway. My posts from the very first in May, 2014 up through June, 2017 have been collected in a single volume, called The Perfect Planet, now available here.

Wooooooo!!! At last!

 

There is, however, good news and bad news.

Good news: It is a rich compendium of my interpretations, speculations, and scientific opinions over a three-year period.

Bad news: How egotistical and self-important do you have to be to think anyone would want such a thing?

 

Good news: In The Perfect Planet you get JDP unfiltered by nit-picky grammar monkeys and uncensored by the scientific establishment.

Bad news: That’s because the “book” is self-produced, with no peer review and no professional copy-editing or production.

 

Good news: It is absolutely free (though in the form of a reduced-resolution compressed pdf file)!

HIERARCHIES & SCALE

The latest issue of Earth-Science Reviews contains a couple of articles where the issue of scale linkage is front and center.  Ma et al. (2017) review the past five years or so of research on hydropedology, focusing on soil-water interactions across spatiotemporal scales.  Walker et al. (2017) outline scale-dependent perspectives on geomorphic evolution of beach and dune systems, based largely on years of collaborative work on Prince Edward Island (Canada).

Beach and frontal dune at Prince Edward Island National Park (http://www.parkscanada.gc.ca/pei)

FLUVIOKARST TRANSITIONS

The article below was just published in Zeitchrift fur Geomorphologie. A full-text preprint version is available here. The link to the journal is here

 

Posted 8 August 2017

HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE CONTINGENCY V: CANALIZATION

Part IV

In genetics, canalization is the ability of a genotype to produce the same phenotype regardless of the environmental setting. In an evolutionary context, canalization (often spelled canalisation) is a manifestation of historical contingency. Once a successful genotype arises it tends to persist, and other evolutionary pathways are closed off. The evolutionary trajectory is in some senses confined to a "channel," the metaphor that produced the term canalization. The term, originally due to biologist C.H. Waddington, has since been used by others in a broader sense to refer to historical development phenomena whereby once a particular path is "chosen" there is an element of lock-in (the quotes are not only because Earth surface systems (ESS) lack intentionality, but also because the selection may be due to random chance or be highly sensitive to minuscule variations).

HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE CONTINGENCY IV: INFINITE CONSTRAINTS

Part I              Part II             Part III

2 + 2 = 4.

That is non-contingent. Adding two and two gives the same result no matter who does it, how they do it, where they do it, or when. The same goes for expressions such as 2 + X = 4, or 27/X = 4, etc.

This four-play is a metaphor for the deterministic, Laplacian, non-contingent ideal of science, where the right tools and sufficient information always give the same, correct result under any circumstances.

But a better metaphor for the actual practice of geosciences and other historical, field-based sciences, is that you find, or observe (evidence of) a four. Mathematically, of course, there are an infinite number of numerical operations that could produce a four. Even if you know that the four arose from, say, subtraction or exponentiation, the possibilities are still infinite.

HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE CONTINGENCY III: PERFECTION

The “perfect storm” metaphor describes the improbable coincidence of several different forces or factors to produce an unusual outcome. The perfect landscape refers to the result of the combined, interacting effects of multiple environmental controls and forcings to produce an outcome that is highly improbable, in the sense of the likelihood of duplication at any other place or time (Phillips, 2007a). Geomorphic and other Earth surface systems (ESS) have multiple environmental controls and forcings, and multiple degrees of freedom in responding to them. This alone allows for many possible landscapes and system states. Further, some controls are contingent, and these contingencies are specific to time and place. Dynamical instability in many ESS creates and enhances some of this contingency by causing the effects of minor initial variations and small disturbances to persist and grow over time. The joint probability of any particular set of global controls (laws or non-contingent generalizations) is low, as the individual probabilities are <1. The probability of any set of local, contingent controls is even lower.

HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE CONTINGENCY II: NONLINEAR DYNAMICS & CHAOS

Part I

My first, and abiding, interest in complex nonlinear dynamics arose in an effort to explain the extensive spatial variability in geomorphic and pedologic phenomena often found within short distances and small areas, in the absence of measurable variations in explanatory factors. Dynamical instability and chaos, whereby minor variations in initial conditions or effects of small, local disturbances become exaggerated over time, can explain this phenomenon. We have had considerable success over the past 25 or 30 years in this regard.

Soil profiles exposed on the Neuse River estuary shoreline, Croatan, N.C. Complex local spatial variability--despite uniform parent material--is evident. Dynamical instability and chaos in pedogenesis of the these soils was demonstrated nearly 25 years ago.

HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE CONTINGENCY

Evolution (I use the word here in its most general sense of long term historical development) of Earth surface systems is historically contingent and path dependent. This seems to be true of evolution of anything, but I will stick here to my supposed areas of expertise. The state of an Earth surface system (ESS; a landscape, ecosystem, etc.) is a function of generally applicable laws that ultimately determine the range of possibilities, geographically specific place factors (environmental constraints and opportunities), and history. While laws are general, if not universal, and apply to every ESS of a given type (e.g., stream channel, cave, mangrove swamp, soil profile, etc.), the place factors define the template in which those laws operate.

And then there is history.

SOIL COMPLEXITY & PEDOGENESIS

The editor of Soil Science, Daniel Gimenez, known for his work on complex nonlinear dynamics and fractals in soils, recently suggested that I write a review paper for the journal updating my ideas on complexity in pedology and pedogenesis. It was an interesting challenge that had not otherwise occurred to me, and I'm glad I did it. The result was recently published as:

Phillips, J.D., 2017. Soil complexity and pedogenesis. Soil Science 182: 117-127 (or full text version here).

The abstract is below:

THE NITROGEN BOMB

I just finished reading Paul Bogard's The Ground Beneath Us, (I recommend it), which among other things warns us yet again about the serious issues--environmental, economic, public health, food security--associated with over-reliance on chemical and fossil-fuel intensive industrial agriculture. It's a good 40-years-later follow-up to Wendell Berry's classic Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (Sierra Club Books, 1977).

It also reminded me of a much more technical and difficult book I read a few years back, Jozef Visser's Down to Earth, subtitled "A Historical and Sociological Analysis of the Rise of 'Industrial' Agriculture and the Prospects for the Re-rooting of Agriculture in the Local Farmer and Ecology. Visser, who has graduate degrees in chemistry and a long career in agricultural chemistry, returned to graduate school later in life to produce this book, which is his dissertation from the University of Waginengen (Netherlands). A pdf is available free at the link above, and I recommend it.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - jdp's blog
X
Enter your linkblue username.
Enter your linkblue password.
Secure Login

This login is SSL protected

Loading