The Curious Expansion of Polly's Bend

Though the meander bends in the Kentucky River gorge area are considered to be mostly inherited (i.e., they were there before the river began downcutting about 1.5 million years ago), they are not static features. This continues a previous post looking at Polly’s Bend.

Geologic map of Polly’s Bend (from Kentucky Geological Survey’s Geologic Mapping Service). Ollr, Oto, Ocn are all Ordovician limestones. Qal is Quaternary alluvium, and the stippled pattern with the red + is Quaternary fluvial terrace deposits. Polly’s Bend is about 5 km in maximum width.

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

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.

Geomorphology and Graph Theory


Tobias Heckmann, Wolfgang Schwanghart and I recently published the second of our two articles on applications of graph theory in physical geography & geosciences: Graph Theory—Recent Developments of Its Applications in Geomorphology (Geomorphology, v. 243, p. 130-146).  The other paper, an overview of graph theory in geosciences, was promoted in this post.

Example of a structural graph, from the article. 

Plenty of Peneplains?


In the late 19th and early 20th century, William Morris Davis popularized the concept of the peneplain, an extensive low-relief erosion surface graded to sea level. Peneplains were strongly associated with Davis’ cyclical model of landscape evolution, which fell out of favor with most geomorphologists decades ago. By association, the discussion and study of peneplains also fell out of favor.

But peneplains are making a comeback. This is best illustrated by a report from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (Green et al., 2013), though the ideas and evidence are also laid out in a number of journal articles by the various co-authors. The report is concerned with development of elevated passive continental margins (think of, e.g., the Great Escarpment of Africa, the eastern Australian highlands, or the main subject of the report, west Greenland). The arguments are strongly dependent on the identification and interpretation of planation surfaces. As these planation surfaces are low-relief, regionally extensive, and are eroded across geological materials of varying resistance, and because the authors present evidence that they were originally graded to sea-level (they were subsequently uplifted), they can be legitimately referred to as peneplains.

Geoscience Metanarratives -- Part 2


This is a continuation of a previous post, and this one will be even less intelligible unless you read that one first.

So, even though we rarely use the term, geoscientists have our metanarratives. Metanarrative is something of a perjorative for postmodern (pomo) critical social theorists, but just because because a metanarrative doesn’t really explain everything, even within its domain, doesn’t make it wrong, useless, or even hubris-y. As long we don’t make claims or insinuations, or have expectations, of a “theory of everything,” overarching theories or explanatory frameworks can be evaluated on their own merits or lack thereof—that is, whether a construct can be considered a metanarrative or not is independent of its utility and value.

Geoscience Metanarratives


At my job I am housed in a building occupied mostly by social science and humanities scholars, many of whom are postmodern, post-structuralist, “critical” social theory oriented. The “critical” is in quotes not to cast aspersions, but because these folks use the term somewhat differently than do scientists, for whom all well-conceived legitimate work is critical in the sense of skepticism, testability, and the potential for falsification.  Anyway, my office location ensures that I am exposed to a good deal of the concepts and jargon of that community.

One of those is metanarrative. According to the Sociology Index web site:

Strat-and-Transition Models II

This is a continuation of my earlier post on applying state-and-transition models (STM) to stratigraphic information, to account for the missing bits.

Barrell’s (1917) explanation of how oscillatory variations in base level control the timing of deposition. Sedimentation can only occur when base level is actively rising. These short intervals are indicated by the black bars in the top diagram. The resulting stratigraphic column, shown at the left, is full of disconformities, but appears to be the result of continuous sedimentation. Noted sedimentologist Andrew Miall has used this example in several articles to illustrate the problems of gaps in sedimentary & stratigraphic records.

Graph Theory in Geosciences

Wolfgang Scwhanghart, Tobias Heckmann and I have collaborated recently to review applications of graph theory in geomorphology and the geosciences in general. One of our papers, Graph Theory in the Geosciences, was just published in Earth-Science Reviews. The abstract is below. Our other joint paper, dealing specifically with graph theory applications in geomorphology, is still in press (in the journal Geomorphology) even though it was completed and accepted before the ESR paper. Go figure. 


Subscribe to RSS - geology
Enter your linkblue username.
Enter your linkblue password.
Secure Login

This login is SSL protected