geography

FLORENTINE FLOODS & THE NEW NORMAL

Just published, in Geomorphology (2022, v. 397, 108026)Impacts of Hurricane Florence on the lower Neuse River: Portents and Particulars. Beyond documenting geomorphic impacts in three specific settings in, essentially, my current backyard, one of the main goals was to test the extent to which geomorphic impacts were attributable to the “new normal” nature of the storm, as opposed to tropical cyclones in general (portents); and to specific characteristics of both the lower Neuse region and the synoptics of Florence in the Carolinas (particulars). The “new normal” refers to the tendency here in the warmed-up and warming-up Anthropocene for more and larger tropical cyclones, and for these storms to hold and deliver more moisture, to move more slowly, and to expand in area (the whys of this are summarized in the article). As you can see from the abstract below, some aspects of Florence’s impacts are portents, while others are linked to the particulars of the place and the storm.

ROOTS

I’ve long been interested in plant roots in the context of their effects on geomorphology and soils, which are many (see the reference below, for starters). Having my antennae up for root research beyond the realm of botany and plant physiology, I came across a very interesting new article by Fredrik Sønderholm and Christian Bjerrum: Minimum levels of atmospheric oxygen from fossil tree roots imply new plant−oxygen feedback, in Geobiology (2021).  The abstract is below: 

NO NORMAL

As climate change and its many impacts unfold, many worse than we had forecasted or feared, many observers have indicated that Earth is entering a “new normal.” This is not wrong. However, with respect to our ability to understand, adapt to, and predict environmental change from here on out, it is probably more accurate to say there is no normal. The climate and environment that we will contend with will be unlike any our species—much less our infrastructures, institutions, and cultures—has ever encountered. I agree with those who say, sometimes circumspectly and sometimes directly, that it is time to panic. Not in the sense of panic as uncontrollable fear or anxiety that can cause wildly unthinking behavior, but in the sense of another definition: a frenzied hurry to do something. Scientists hate to be called alarmist, but when the house is on fire, you sound the alarm.

New York Times, February, 2019

 

OH S#*T

Every day, it seems, there is another news story or reports of yet more evidence that the global climate is changing, either as we have predicted for years—or worse and faster. The climate system is incredibly complex, and climatologists, climate modelers and paleoclimatologists are furiously working to reduce the uncertainty. Despite the uncertainties and complexities, at this point it is clear that:

•Global mean temperatures are rising.

•Ocean heat content is increasing.

•Sea ice cover is, on average, decreasing (both in areal extent and thickness).

Arctic sea ice cover is in serious long-term decline (photo: Huffpost Canada)

•Ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking.

•Permafrost is thawing.

•Sea level is rising. 

•Changes in climate-sensitive biota, ecosystems, and landforms are all consistent with a warming climate. 

•The major driving force is a dramatic increase in heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

AXIOMS FOR READING THE LANDSCAPE

Just published in Progress in Physical Geography: Place Formation and Axioms for Reading the Natural LandscapeThis work is an attempt to develop some formalisms for analyzing the biophysical landscape from the perspective of place formation--how landscapes, environments, and places evolve and become different from each other. My original efforts were in the form of conceptual model, but (thanks in large measure to reviewers and critiques of earlier versions) I realized that (A) the critical principles could be reduced to axioms, and (B) a set of guidelines or axioms is a more effective (and honest) way to present the approach. The abstract is below:

A copy of the full text is attached.

 

 

New Maps Plus student wins national cartography award

At the 2018 North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) annual meeting, New Maps Plus student Kerry Gathers was awarded first prize in the student Dynamic Map competition.  Kerry's beautifully stylized and interactive map (https://www.kgmaps.com/oil-and-bone/) highlights the rise and fall of the whaling industry of the 1800's, and includes fascinating narratives at key points.  Well done Kerry!

TRYING TO REASON WITH HURRICANE SEASON

As I write, river flooding and cleanup from Hurricane Florence in North and  South Carolina are ongoing. The storm was not a major one in terms of maximum sustained winds--only a Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale when it made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, near Cape Fear, NC.  But the storm approached the coast very slowly, and moved only very slowly once it made landfall. That, and the areal extent of of the storm, resulted in quite a beating for the eastern Carolinas. 

Satellite image of Florence approaching the Carolina coast. 

SELECTION REDUX

A couple of years ago I blogged about generalized Darwinism in a post called Occam’s SelectionThis is the idea that principles of variation, selection, and preservation or retention are applicable to development and evolution of many different phenomena. The GD label is most common in evolutionary economics, but the notion is constantly being reinvented in many different fields. 

A recent example is Selection for Gaia Across Multiple Scales, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The issue is how biological natural selection, which operates at the level of individuals, could result in evolutionary trends at ecosystems and broader scales, including the self-regulating biotic/abiotic coupling of the global Earth system. 

BIOGEOMORPHIC EQUIVALENTS & FUNCTIONAL GROUPS

During some recent fieldwork doing forest biogeomorphology with colleagues in the Czech Republic, the idea of biogeomorphic equivalents came up. A biogeomorphic ecosystem engineer organism has a biogeomorphic equivalent if another species can potentially do the same biogeomorphic job. For example, bacteria that consume iron are important agents of weathering. There exist numerous species of iron-eating microbes, so if one is eliminated for whatever reason, another takes its place. Thus these Fe-processing bacteria have biogeomorphic equivalents.

Acidophilous iron-oxidizing bacteria (USGS photo).

On the other hand, there exists no biogeomorphic equivalent for the stream-damming effects of beavers. The disappearance of Castor canadensis from a landscape means the loss of their biogeomorphic effects, as no other organism (save humans, of course), dams up streams.

Wyoming beaver dam (photo: Wildlife Conservation Society).

RIVERS & TIPPING POINTS

Some have argued that in geomorphology and physical geography the term "tipping point" does not describe any concepts or phenomena not long recognized by the fields. The tipping point concept does not (it is argued) have any conceptual or analytical value added. I agree. Here is a previous post on tipping point metaphors.

Blanco River, Texas.

Notwithstanding that, tipping point terminology is au courantin both public discourse and science, particularly as it relates to global and broad scale environmental change. Thus--perhaps analogously to buzzwords such as "sustainability" and "resilience"-- if you want to be a part of broader scientific conversations, it pays to employ the trendy term.

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