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Polly’s Bend: Initial Conditions

South of Lexington and north of Danville, Kentucky, the Kentucky River makes a major turn from a generally SW to NW direction. Shortly downstream, there is a compound “gooseneck” meander bend called Polly’s Bend.

Google EarthTM image of Polly’s Bend. The maximum width from tip to tip is ~ 5 km.; minimum width of the neck is ~ 350 - 400 m. 

While not the norm, such tight bends are not uncommon in winding alluvial rivers, and will eventually be cut off during a flood, when the channel cuts across the narrow neck. Polly’s Bend, however, is entrenched in bedrock. The narrow neck (and the rest of the bend) has more than 100 m of solid limestone bedrock to cut through. So a classic meander cutoff, with flow going overbank across the neck and cutting a new channel; that ain’t gonna happen.

Romantic Geomorphology, part 2

This continues my previous post, toying with the notion of what a Romantic geomorphology would be like. This is based on the Romantic movement in art, literature, and science, rather than the more common meanings related to amourness and love, or to unrealistic idealism. Though, come to think of it, maybe Romantic geomorphology in those terms is also worth thinking about . . . .

Anyway, in the earlier post I noted that Daniel Gade’s book, Curiosity, Inquiry, and the Geographical Imagination (Peter Lang publishers, 2011) proposed 14 tenets of the Romantic imagination as it relates to research. Eight of them, in my view, apply readily to geomorphology and geosciences in general, though certainly not all practitioners display or even aspire to all of these traits.  Six others need a bit more dissection.

Search for the Exotic

Why Them? Why There?

In Johnson County, Kentucky, today, lots of people along Patterson Creek are wondering “why me?”  A flash flood Monday (July 13) tore through that eastern Kentucky community, leaving three people dead, a dozen missing at one point, and destroying about 150 homes and who knows how many cars, barns, etc. (news story).

As a Kentuckian, and as a veteran of a couple of hurricanes back in 1996 in North Carolina, I sympathize with wondering why you, or your community, got hit while others didn’t. As a geomorphologist and hydrologist who was worked on flash flooding in the southern Appalachians, I also wonder about the scientific aspects—why the severe flood event in this particular location?

Make no mistake—the area around Flat Gap is not the only one in Kentucky that has gotten a lot of rain recently, and high water, runoff, soil erosion, and filled-up sinkholes are common lately throughout eastern and central Kentucky. But why the much more severe flooding at Patterson Creek?

Did they get more rain?

Landforms as Extended Composite Phenotypes

The online version of my new article exploring biogeomorphology from the perspective of niche construction and extended phenotypes is now out. The abstract is below. I appreciate my colleague Daehyun Kim encouraging me to stick with some of the more speculative and provocative ideas here. I was about to back off from them at one point, but he encouraged me to go for it.

Reference: Phillips, J.D. 2015. Landforms as extended compositive phenotypes. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms DOI: 10.1002/esp.3764.

 

 

Romantic Geomorphology

In common parlance, romantic typically refers to the pursuit of love and affection, or to an idealistic, unrealistic outlook. The definitions of romantic as idealistic often includes synonyms such as dreamy, starry-eyed, impractical, and Quixotic, and may list realistic as an antonym. However, Romanticism (typically indicated with the capital R to distinguish it from other usages) as a movement of the late 18th and early 19th century applied to science as well as to art and literature. Lately I’ve stumbled across a few things that made me want to play with the idea of what a Romantic geomorphologist would be like.

Makin' It Rain

  No, not like this.

Dang, it’s been raining a lot lately.  Today, for instance, here in Mercer County, Kentucky, Herrington Lake’s level has risen almost 2 m in the last two weeks. Discharge of the Dix River has topped 1000 cfs (28.3 cms) twice in the past week, where the mean flow for early July is about 40 cfs (1.1 cms) over the past 71 years. We had another gully-washer, frog-choker rainstorm this morning.

If it seems to have been an unusually wet summer here in Kentucky, you’re right. The graphic below shows departures from normal (mean) rainfall totals for June. That pinkish blob in north-central Kentucky, showing 8 inches (203 mm) above normal is the Lexington area.

This follows a wet spring hereabouts. Below is the departure-from-normal precipitation map for April, 2015, a month in which one-day precipitation records were set in Lexington, Frankfort, and Louisville.

$how me the Money

This rant, lament, or diatribe will not be unfamiliar to those who know me, or to most academics, as there’s scarcely a unique complaint here. I reprise it in response to a couple of recent conversations. One concerned a very good geoscientist at another university who was recently promoted and tenured, but told by her dean that she would never make full professor if she didn’t start bringing in some grant money, regardless of the quantity and quality of her research output. The attitude and policy reflected by this is not only not atypical, it is standard in research universities. For a long time academic success (at least in material terms of money and status) in the sciences has depended more on how many external dollars you bring in than how much research you produce, and how good that research is.

 

The second conversation involved a young scientist venting a bit about what a royal pain in the ass it is putting together a joint proposal. I know from experience that many will agree with me when I say that the administrative details, budget, chain of internal and external approvals, and other miscellaneous hoop jumping is invariably a lot more work than the actual scientific part of a proposal.

Quo vadis, Physical Geography? Part 2

First part is here. 

An oversimplified, drive-by version of the changing role of physical geography includes these overlapping and not mutually exclusive stages:

1. Discovery and exploration—collecting basic data and observations on topography, geology, biota, meteorology, oceanography, etc., often in conjunction with surveying, mapping, and collection of anthropological and economic data. In this stage physical geographers are simply, but not exclusively, Geographers. They are also, in various cases, anthropologists, biologists, ethnographers, geologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and surveyors.

2. Holding up the Earth and environmental sciences end of the integrated geographical analysis of places, regions, and various geographical systems (e.g., transportation and settlement patterns, trade networks, cultural landscapes, climate zones, biomes, agricultural systems, etc.). Physical geographers in this stage were either specialists in the physical side of the discipline, or broadly trained geographers with substantive physical expertise.

Trees Behaving Badly

I recently submitted a manuscript to Catena, entitled Hillslope Degradation by Trees in Central Kentucky. The reviews came back generally positive, and requesting minor to moderate revisions. I took care of those revisions, and resubmitted. The paper was then sent to a third referee, who pretty thoroughly trashed it. Catena's editor then rejected it (with option to resubmit). However, I am at an age & stage where I have to pick my battles, and this is not one I choose to fight. But I still think the paper has some worthwhile stuff in it, so I have posted it online. You can get it here

The abstract is below, but be forwarned that the third reviewer deemed it "quite poorly written", "hard to follow," and a "mishmash of various statements." I don't think it's that bad . . . .      

 

 

 

Quo Vadis Physical Geography?

The Canadian Association of Geographers recently held a special session on Changing Priorities in Physical Geography (I did not attend or participate; I was made aware of it by a Canadian colleague). The session description is given here. It got me to thinking about a piece I wrote more than a decade ago in response to a similar mandate, called Laws, Contingencies, and Irreversible Divergence in Physical Geography. I thought I would revisit what I published back in 2004 to see how it holds up. The paper focused on physical geography as science and scholarship, as opposed to the institutional politics of physical geography within geography as a whole, and relative to other disciplines. However, I did predict that physical geography—as geomorphology, climatology, biogeography, soil geography, and geospatial approaches to Earth & environmental sciences—would grow and thrive. However, I also expressed doubt that this work would continue to be called physical geography, and the extent to which it would be conducted under the institutional auspices of geography.

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