Jonathan Phillips

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  • Professor of Earth Surface Systems
  • Geography
877 Patterson Office Tower
(859) 257-6950
  • Other Affiliations:
Research Interests:

Jonathan Phillips, author of a vast number of widely-ignored publications, is a physical geographer and geoscientist with interests in fluvial, coastal and soil geomorphology, biogeomorphology, pedology, surface hydrology, and Earth surface systems. Phillips’ overarching research goal is to understand the interactions among landforms, soils, ecosystems, climate, and the hydrosphere, both in a modern process context, and in terms of coevolution. Given the immensity of the goal, particularly compared to the limitations of Phillips’ time and intelligence, he is often obliged to work on much smaller pieces of the broader puzzle. 

In fluvial geomorphology, hydrology, and river science, much of his recent work has focussed on understanding how how coastal plain rivers respond to changes in flow regimes, sea-level, and climate. In addition to the theoretical aspects of this work, the results are also applied to instream flow policies and other water resource management issues.  Another line of fluvial work focusses on bedrock streams and the coevolution of fluvial and karst drainage systems in central Kentucky.  This is related more broadly to his research interests in landscape evolution of fluvially-dominated landscapes, carried out mainly in Kentucky, the southern Appalachians, and the Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico coastal plain. 

Phillips’ work in soil geomorphology and pedology deals with pedogenesis and regolith development and the coevolution of soils, landforms, and ecosystems, with field sites in the Czech Republic, Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas, the Bluegrass region of central Kentucky, and coastal plain landscapes in North Carolina. He is particularly interested in the role of trees in weathering and soil formation in forests, causes of soil spatial variability, and in challenging traditional notions of the origin of layering in soils and notion of steady-state soil thickness (which he refers to as a “convenient fiction”). The latter is part of a broader effort to question long-held assumptions of normative steady-state equilibrium in geomorphology, pedology, and ecology. Other work is focused on the interaction of fluvial and karst processes in evolution of fluviokarst landscapes (mainly in central Kentucky).

Phillips is also interested in theory and methodology related to studying Earth systems as complex, nonlinear dynamical systems. He has developed, and continues to attempt to develop, new ideas and methods for complex systems analysis of rivers, soils, landscapes, and ecosystems.

Teaching interests include introductory and upper-level physical geography, geomorphology, and biogeography. A majority of Phillips’ students grudgingly concede that he is not the worst professor they ever had. Though one of his current PhD advisees refers to him as "Angry Professor," he usually manages to keep his simmering resentment from boiling over into apoplectic fury.

Phillips, who is writing this about himself in the third person, is no longer accepting new graduate student advisees, though he is happy to provide advice of questionable value to any graduate student (or for that matter, anyone else).

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