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Laws, Contingencies, Irreversible Divergence, and Physical Geography*



Four critical challenges for physical geography are examined here: deterioration of common cores of knowledge associated with increasing intellectual niche specialization; the need for conceptual thinking and problem-framing to catch up with measurement and analysis technology; and the need to explicitly incorporate human decision making in analysis of earth surface systems. The future calls for physical geography to embrace and confront the creative tension between nomothetic and interpretive science, and to fruitfully and explicitly integrate these approaches.
Laws, Contingencies, Irreversible Divergence,
and Physical Geography
Jonathan D. Phillips
University of Kentucky
Four critical challenges for physical geography are examined here: deterioration of common cores of knowledge
associated with increasing intellectual niche specialization; the need for conceptual thinking and problem-
framing to catch up with measurement and analysis technology; and the need to explicitly incorporate human
decision making in analysis of earth surface systems. The future calls for physical geography to embrace and
confront the creative tension between nomothetic and interpretive science, and to fruitfully and explicitly
integrate these approaches. Key Words: contingency, irreversible divergence, laws, physical geography.
Physical geographywill continue to grow and
thrive in the next century, but in the next
decade or so we face some critical challenges.
Notwithstanding comments on divergence and
fragmentation—a factor in the evolution of phy-
sical geography that can hardly be ignored—
the focus will be on the future of physical geog-
raphy as science and scholarship, rather than
on physical geography as a discipline or sub-
discipline. The extent to which the execution of
physical geography will be called geography,
or associated with the institutions of geog-
raphy, is not my concern here. This is not to say
that such questions are not important; it is
an acknowledgement that your guess is as good
as mine.
Irreversible Divergence
The increasing fragmentation and specializa-
tion in geography—and every other field—is
sometimes attributed to the poor fit between the
historically contingent, artifactual definitions
of the traditional academic disciplines and the
world we perceive and study. This is not
the primary driver of fragmentation, however.
We are becoming ever more specialized because
we have no choice.
As knowledge expands, the ability of any
individual to cope with it stays constant, oblig-
ing (succeeding generations of ) individuals to
specify increasingly narrow intellectual niches.
Specialization and fragmentation is inevitable
and unavoidable. As intellectual niche speciali-
zation occurs, specialists become increasing-
ly removed from traditional disciplinary cores.
This is not entirely—and not necessarily—a bad
thing. New, specialist groups may be indepen-
dent of unhealthy or stifling cultures, politics,
authorities, and orthodoxies of the traditional
disciplines. There is also the potential for fruit-
ful interchanges and synergies, drawing from
different scientific cultures as well as different
knowledge bases, skills, and abilities.
On the negative side, fragmentation may lead
to scattered individuals and groups of specialists
who operate with no central frame of reference
or core base of knowledge or epistemology.
This lack of a common core may inhibit com-
munication within and between the specialist
groups, and may also be inefficient as wheels are
reinvented. The emergence of new cores inde-
pendent of the traditional disciplines is possible,
but is inhibited by the absence of central insti-
tutions and authorities to define, negotiate, or
enforce a common body of knowledge. There-
fore, as these cores emerge, the common body
of knowledge is likely to be ad hoc and main-
tained by informal networks.
The primary implication of divergence for
the science of physical geography, given the in-
evitability of increasing specialization, is the
likelihood that earth and environmental scien-
tists will increasingly operate without a central
body of knowledge or core epistemology. This
will serve as a negative feedback or brake on the
* Three anonymous reviewers and both guest editors provided detailed, thoughtful, and stimulating commentary and critique. I regret that limitations
of time, allotted space, and my abilities kept me from responding effectively (or at all) to many of their excellent suggestions and comments.
The Professional Geographer, 56(1) 2004, pages 37–43 rCopyright 2004 by Association of American Geographers.
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, U.K.
progress that specialization, coupled with steadi-
ly improvingcommunicationstechnology, might
otherwise facilitate. Alas, I have no recommen-
dations, other than that issues of a shared core
of knowledge should be considered as both
traditional disciplines and specialist groups plan
their futures. Human geography, communica-
tion studies, and the history of science may
provide useful insight or models in this regard.
Theory, Technology, and
the New Classics
Remarkable technical advances are underway,
revolutionizing many threads of inquiry, reinvi-
gorating moribund areas of study, and opening
up lines of investigation the previous generation
could scarcely have imagined. A review would
require a lengthy book, but these advances in-
clude new measurement methods and tech-
niques ( for example, in remote sensing, dating,
and mass flux tracing), new analytical tech-
niques ( for instance, local forms of spatial analy-
sis and object-oriented GIS), and new ways to
dramatically increase the amount and availabil-
ity of traditional types of data (such as digital
elevation models and paleoecological data). The
new techniques and technologies both allow
us to do things we could never do before, such as
date previously undatable materials and sur-
faces, and enable us to perform traditional tasks
with previously unheard-of scope and speed,
such as LIDAR-based topographic mapping.
These advances come from withinphysical geog-
raphy and its subdisciplines, from evolving inter-
faces (genetics/biogeography or geochemistry/
geomorphology, for instance), or from simply
making use of general technological improve-
ments in fields such as computation and micro-
scopy. It may now be the case that our ability
to measure is no longer the major factor limit-
ing the advancement of physical geography.
This is not to say that there is not plenty of
room left for technology-based advancement.
For physical geography in the aggregate, how-
ever, our ability to measure and model has
temporarily outstripped our knowledge of exact-
ly what we should be measuring or modeling
and our supply of good ideas and important
problems. With new dating techniques, for
instance,we are now able to test somehypotheses
regarding long-term landscape evolution, such
as whether landforms are (or can be) in steady-
state equilibrium, and mitochondrial DNA
analysis allows biogeographers to examine evo-
lutionary biogeography in new ways. In another
example, new ice-core data, enabled by im-
proved ice-drilling technologies, allows the eva-
luation of hypotheses regardingclimate changes.
We are well along in the application of new
methods and data to classic problems. As pre-
viously unanswerable questions gradually get
answered, the future growth of the field will
depend largely on our ability to define interest-
ing and important new problems. As we address
the vintage problems of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, our challenge is to frame
a set of new or future ‘‘classic’’ problems. The
situation may be analogous to that of hydrology
twenty years ago, when David Pilgrim (1983,
71) claimed that ‘‘[O]ur analytical ability has
far outstripped our knowledge of hydrological
processes.’’ Since then, hydrological knowledge
has been greatly increased, at least partly due
to technological advances such as isotope tra-
cers, but Jeffrey McDonnell (2003) reports that
these techniques are being applied to decades-
old conceptual models that need updating or
replacement. Perhaps the development of phys-
ical geography and its subdisciplines is des-
tined to be staggered, as theory or technology
moves ahead and then waits for the other to
catch up.
At the risk of caricature, confronting this
challenge implies a revitalization of curiosity-
driven, individual-oriented ‘‘small science,’’ as
opposed to funding- and technology-driven,
research-group-oriented ‘‘big science.’’ The
most important and fundamental ideas, theo-
ries, and hypotheses in physical geography
arise from real-world observations, be they the
classic constructions of Cowles, Gilbert, Davis,
or Dokuchaev or more recent insights such
as evidence of abrupt climate or vegetation
changes in paleoenvironmental data. The effort
to advance theoretical physical geography in
the near future will be less about algorithmic or
laboratory skill and more about generating
ideas about soils, ecosystems, climates, and
so on. For most physical geographers, these
ideas come from the field—whether via formal
fieldwork, rambling around the countryside or
streetscape, or observations through an air-
plane window. Thus, a key limitation on our
near-future development may be the extent to
38 Volume 56, Number 1, February 2004
which we engage the Earth on its own terms,
as opposed to via stripped-down representa-
tions of the Earth in simulation models or
Human Impacts
No geographer needs to be convinced about
the overwhelming impact of homo sapiens on the
global environment, and most still buy into,
at some level, the value of synthesizing human
and ‘‘natural’’ science and scholarship. Physi-
cal geography will continue to make important
contributions to understanding human impacts
on the environment. The combination of natur-
al science and social science is relatively com-
mon when one or the other is treated at the
vernacular level. Integration, where both phys-
ical and human geography are dealt with at a
high level of sophistication, is rare ( Johnston
1986); generally, either human agency or bio-
physical processes are treated as inputs or
boundary conditions to the other, which is the
focus of theorizing, analysis, and prediction.
Increasingly, that will not be good enough.
That is, human impacts in some systems are
so pervasive that we cannot understand and pre-
dict these biophysical systems without account-
ing for economic, social, and cultural boundary
conditions and forcings just as we dutifully
account for climate, tectonics, and sea level.
Much has been accomplished with more tra-
ditional approaches based mainly on compar-
ing and contrasting more-or-less-unaltered with
human-altered systems, but we are approach-
ing the limits of what we can do. In many
situations, explanation requires incorporating
human decision making and actions into con-
ceptual frameworks and predictive models. For
instance, Karl Nordstrom (1987) showed that
the response of New Jersey tidal inlets to sea-
level rise or coastal storms cannot be predict-
ed based strictly on coastal geomorphology.
Rather, human responses such as dredging,
beach nourishment, shoreline ‘‘hardening,’
and other actions must be considered along
with geomorphic processes (Nordstrom 1987).
I stress that my arguments here are indepen-
dent of any notions of the unity of physical and
human geography and of explicit concerns
with human environments or natural/social-
science integration. My claim is that even if one
is only interested in hillslopes, ecosystems, or
evapotranspiration,with no professionalconcern
with human activities or behavior, human agency
must still be engaged, because there is often
no way to understand hillslopes, ecosystems, or
evapotranspiration—for example—without it.
Cultural ecology and geoarchaeology pro-
vide a number of examples of studies in which
both physical and human geography data and
principles are brought to bear, with comparable
levels of attention and sophistication. There
are not many exemplars in studies of modern
technological societies or landscapes, or where
environmental and resource effects on humans
are less central than in cultural ecology. One
exception is Martin Roberge’s (2002) study of
channel changes in the Salt River, which puts
the actions of planners and engineers on an
equal analytical footing with the dynamics of
flow and sediment flux. Others include the work
of R. P. Guyette, R. M. Muzika, and D. C. Dey
(2002) on anthropogenic fire regimes and forest
ecology in the Missouri Ozarks, and S. Sullivan
and R. Rohde’s (2002) integration of biogeog-
raphic, ecological, land-use, and political-
economy theoryin problems of land degradation
in semiarid Africa. These examples notwith-
standing, we are a long way from—for example
—a fluvial project in which stream power and
political power are both brought to bear on
studies of channel change.
Laws and Contingencies
Science is characterized by creative tension
between a search for fundamental laws and
generalities that are independent of place
and time and the recognition—particularly in
the earth and environmental sciences—that
geography and history matter. The law-based,
nomothetic approach (often, but not necessa-
rily, reductionist) seeks explanation based on
the application of laws and relationships that
are valid everywhere and always. Particularities
of place and time are not ignored, but they
are treated as boundary conditions and are
not a causal or necessary part of explanation.
Alternative approaches, which may be termed
idiographic, historical, or interpretive, seek
explanation based on the particular details of
site, situation, and history. General laws are
acknowledged and utilized, but as constraints
and context to the specific events, objects, or
situations that are the basis of explanation.
Laws, Contingencies, Irreversible Divergence, and Physical Geography 39
The nomothetic approach has generally been
dominant, and arguably so in the earth and envi-
ronmental sciences, even as numerous geog-
raphers, geologists, ecologists, archaeologists,
soil scientists, and others have quietly and effect-
ively practiced historical, interpretive science.
The idiographic approach has often been viewed
as a necessary precursor to more advanced
nomothetic schemes, as a temporary fallback
option when we are not yet up to recognizing
or applying general laws, or as being carried
out in the service of law-based science to pro-
vide necessary inputs and boundary conditions
to the latter.
Recently, however, approaches to science
based on or recognizing historical and spatial
contingencies and path dependence have been
reconceptualized as legitimate and necessary
methodologies on an equal footing with nomo-
thetic methods. In general terms, this new view
holds that:
Some scientific fields—particularly those
with important historic components and
those which deal with nature on its own
terms, rather than a laboratory or model
setting—have innate, irreducible levels of
contingency that cannot be reduced or
eliminated by simply collecting more data
or by refining law-based models.
Historical and interpretive approaches,
while different from the laboratory-
experimental ideal of nomothetic science,
may be equally sophisticated and valid
ways of gaining knowledge, independent-
ly of any relationships with nomothetic
The operations and manifestations of
earth systems are often characterized by
contingent factors that may have sig-
nificant—even predominant—influences
on system states and outcomes. That is,
contingencies are not necessarily noise
superimposed on patterns determined by
general laws, or complications that can
eventually be described by general laws.
They may be factors which are irredu-
cibly place- and/or time-dependent, and
which may be as important as or even
more important than general laws in de-
termining how the world works.
Geography and earth science often deal
with singular, nonrepeatable outcomes
(the state of a landscape or system at a
given time and place). Thus, the ideals
of repeatability and experimentation of
the laboratory sciences are often not
These arguments have been particularly com-
mon and forceful in geomorphology and geol-
ogy (e.g. Frodeman 1995; Baker 1996; Lane and
Richards 1997; Spedding 1997; Bishop 1998;
Harrison 1999), in ecology and biogeography
(Foster 2000; Peterson 2002; Phillips 2002),
and in paleontology and evolutionary biology
(Gould 2002), but have also been voiced in
pedology (Kristiansen 2001; Phillips 2001a),
and in physical geography ( Phillips 2001b;
Sauchyn 2001).
The search for underlying laws and general-
ities will continue to be a fundamental goal.
However, it has become clear that in many cases,
full explanation and understanding based on
general laws alone is impossible or unfeasi-
ble. Thus, the challenge is to fully integrate
nomothetic and idiographic approaches—to
move from methods that place either historical
and geographical particulars or general laws
in a clearly secondary position to those that
give equal or comparable weight to laws and
In no science is this more important than in
physical geography. As in geology, archaeology,
and evolutionary biology, history is critical in
physical geography. And as in other aspects of
geography, place is critical as well. While there
are certainly problems that can be solved based
on a strictly nomothetic approach, in physical
geography contingencies are always present and
often relevant.
While the challenge of integrating laws and
particularities is more acute for physical geog-
raphy than perhaps any other discipline, there
are several reasons that physical geography is
in a good position to take a leadership or exem-
plary role in this synthesis. Physical geography
has been here before, largely via its associa-
tion with regional and human geography. The
debates over idiographic/regional/interpretative
geography versus nomothetic /quantitative /
scientific geography have come and (mostly)
gone; contemporary critiques emphasizing con-
textuality and contingency are with us now. Also,
the human aspects of geography (in human geog-
raphy per se and in the inclusion of human
40 Volume 56, Number 1, February 2004
agency in much of physical geography) provide
a prototype for dealing with uniqueness and
irreducible unpredictability. While we know
that no two people are alike and that individual
behavior is unpredictable, we also know that
there is some degree of predictability—and
some generalizations to be made and applied—
at an aggregate level or in a probabilistic sense.
Perhaps similar reasoning can be applied to
other entities: no two ecosystems, streams, mid-
latitude cyclones, and so on are exactly the same,
and individuals have idiosyncracies, but predic-
tability may be pursued at an aggregate or pro-
babilistic level.
Similarly, synoptic climatology is a useful
prototype. Synoptic analysis is informed and
constrained by laws of atmospheric physics
and chemistry, but it implicitly recognizes
the idiosyncratic nature of air masses, pressure
systems, and weather maps. Developing typo-
logies based on geographical (regional) and
temporal (seasonal) contexts, makes predictions
possible. Again, the synoptic approach might
prove applicable to other problems, such as arid-
zone hydrology and runoff production (Kni-
ghton and Nanson 2001; Slattery, Gares, and
Phillips forthcoming).
The integration of law-based and contingent
methods depends to a large extent on spatial
analysis, as accounting for the effects of local
factors involves describing and explaining spa-
tial variability. Quantitative geography has wit-
nessed a shift from an emphasis from attempts
to derive global laws to an explicit recognition
of contingencies (Fotheringham and Brunsdon
1999). Rather than search for singular under-
lying governing laws, quantitative geographers
are now more likely to be attempting to explain
spatial variability, often incorporating spatial
statistics that explicitly account for location-
al particularities (Fotheringham and Brunsdon
1999). This paradigm has long held sway in
certain areas of physical geography, such as
landscape ecology and pedometrics, where ex-
plaining the nature of spatial variability has been
more prominent than attempts to uncover gene-
ral laws and where spatial patterns are typically
viewed as emerging from complex interactions,
rather than being imposed by a single dominant
control (Kupfer 1995; Webster 2000).
Finally, Reginald Golledge (2002) has done
an exemplary job of teasing out just those parti-
cular skills, abilities, analytical tools, and rea-
soning for which geography is well suited and
with which geographers tend to be dispropor-
tionately blessed. Some of these—for exam-
ple, place-based reasoning—are inherently well
suited to the synthesis of nomothetics and
Summary and Alternative Visions
The future of physical geography, like that
of most other fields, will be characterized by
irreversible divergence and intellectual niche
specialization. This is likely to lead to fractiona-
tion and decomposition of common bodies of
knowledge and core epistemologies. This dete-
rioration of common frames of reference is the
biggest challenge that fragmentation and spe-
cialization pose to the practice—as opposed to
the institutions—of physical geography.
Technological innovation has revolutioni-
zed physical geography, and the availability of
measurement techniques is no longer the major
limitation to advances in the science of physical
geography. As new technology is increasing-
ly brought to bear on classic and chronic pro-
blems, future progress will be determined by
our ability to conceive new, interesting, and
important problems.
We may also be approaching the limits of
what can be accomplished via traditional metho-
dological approaches to the study of human-
altered environments. Further progress will
depend on research that is able to incorporate
both biophysical and human (social, cultural,
economic)processes at high—and comparable—
levels of theoretical and analytical sophistication.
Finally, the future calls for science in general,
and earth and environmental science in par-
ticular, to embrace and confront the creative
tension between nomothetic and interpretive
science and to fruitfully and explicitly integrate
these approaches. More than any other (sub)-
discipline, physical geography is both crucially
affected by this synthesis and well positioned to
contribute to it.
Based on the challenges outlined above, we
can articulate alternative visions for physical
geography. At worst, physical geography will
continue to forge ahead more slowly than might
otherwise be the case, as the decline of com-
mon frames of reference inhibits communica-
tion and leads to inefficiencies as old ground
is replowed. Cutting-edge research will be
Laws, Contingencies, Irreversible Divergence, and Physical Geography 41
technology-driven, providing ever-greater in-
sight into traditional questions and problems.
Understanding of human impacts on the envi-
ronment will progress incrementally as human
and physical geography proceed separately,
with only clumsy and cursory efforts to engage
theories and methods from both sides. Histor-
ical and spatial contingency will remain largely
unintegrated with law-based approaches.
At best, physical geography will race ahead.
We will find ways to maintain and build com-
mon cores of knowledge even as inevitable
fragmentation occurs. Research will be proble-
matized primarily from observations and theory
derived directly from ecosystems, landscapes,
climates, and so on, with evolving technologies
developed, adapted, or brought to bear on those
problems. We will proceed with understanding
of and engagement with realities such as, for
example, the fact that ecosystem restoration
goals have as much or more to do with cultural
values as with environmental factors, or that
water-resource economics is likely to influence
the flow of some streams more than precipita-
tion. And we will find new ways to integrate
nomothetic science with historical, interpretive
research in ways that preserve the information
and insight of both approaches.
This best-case scenario is based entirely on
the practice of physical geography as science
and scholarship, rather than on the institution-
al and disciplinary politics of geography and
geosciences. Political struggles will no doubt
occur, and physical geographers are no doubt ill
advised to ignore them. The trajectory of our
field, however, depends primarily and over-
whelmingly on the extent to which we produce
relevant, high-quality work that takes advantage
of the perspectives and skills of geographers.
The future is bright. How bright? That is up
to us.
The guest editors beseeched me to provide some-
thing more in the way of suggestions on how to deal
with these issues, and their suggestions were reason-
able. I resisted simply because I could come up with
nothing original or insightful to say on this subject.
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JONATHAN PHILLIPS is a professor in the De-
partment of Geography at the University of Kentucky,
Lexington, KY 40506-0027. E-mail:
His core research interests are in fluvial, coastal, and
soil geomorphology, pedology, and hydrology. He
is particularly concerned with: the theory of earth sur-
face systems; the coevolution of landscapes, soils, and
ecosystems; the role of fluvial sediment storage
and transport in landscape evolution; and applications
of spatial analysis in the geosciences.
Laws, Contingencies, Irreversible Divergence, and Physical Geography 43
... Generalised constraints are limitations on possibility, probability or notional truth. This concept is echoed in hierarchy theory, in which landscape units at higher organisational levels are conceived as contextual constraints on the forms and processes found in units at lower organisational levels (Allen and Starr, 1982;Phillips, 2004). Conversely, landscape units at lower hierarchical levels also shape possibilities at higher levels. ...
... Generalised constraints can relate to possibility, probability or notional truth. This concept is echoed in hierarchy theory, in which landscape units at higher organisational levels are conceived as contextual constraints on the forms and processes found in units at lower organisational levels (Allen and Starr, 1982;Phillips, 2004). ...
Full-text available
We propose the use of archetypes as a way of moving between conceptual framings, empirical observations and the dichotomous classification rules upon which maps are based. An archetype is a conceptualisation of an entire category or class of objects. Archetypes can be framed as abstract exemplars of classes, conceptual models linking form and process and/or tacit mental models similar to those used by field scientists to identify and describe landforms, soils and/or units of vegetation. Archetypes can be existing taxonomic or landscape units or may involve new combinations of landscape attributes developed for a specific purpose. As landscapes themselves defy precise categorisation, archetypes, as considered here, are deliberately vague, and are described in general terms rather than in terms of the details that characterise a particular instance of a class. An example outlining the use of archetypes for landscape classification and mapping is demonstrated for granitic catenas in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Some 81% of the study area can be described in terms of archetypal catenal elements. However, spatial clustering of two classes that did not correspond to the archetypes prompted development of new archetypes. We show how the archetypes encoded in the map can be used to frame further knowledge in an ongoing, iterative and adaptive process. Building on this, we reflect on the value of vagueness in conservation science and management, highlighting how archetypes that are used to interpret and map landscapes may be better employed in the future.
... Caylor et al., 2005). Such a notional template does not determine the species or population of plants and animals that use the resources it provides, but it does limit the range of available possibilities, acting as an environmental filter that constrains a wide range of socio-ecological processes at many scales (see Phillips, 2004;Poff, 1997). Focusing on this template moves initial discussion away from the distributions of species (which are often mobile) and subjective perceptions of ecosystems (which have indeterminable boundaries). ...
... Although clearly bounded, discrete, internally homogenous units are easy to represent, analyse and manage, the internal heterogeneity within patches and between patches is truncated as information about how variables change through space and time is sacrificed to provide easily manipulated summaries (Cushman et al., 2010). However, these summaries are often poor reflections of reality: not only are patch transitions often blurred, but small within-patch variations can have large effects both on the distributions of individual system components and on overall patch character and behaviour (McGarigal and Cushman, 2005;Phillips, 2004). Furthermore, landscapes constantly adjust and evolve over multiple temporal scales, influenced by historical and contextual contingencies. ...
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There is growing demand for biogeographical landscape classifications and ecological maps that describe patterns of spatially co-varying biotic and abiotic ecosystem components. This demand is fuelled by increasing data availability and processing capacity, by institutional practices of land and water resource management and planning and by the growth of transdisciplinary science that requires the development of a shared conceptual framework through which to view landscape character and behaviour. Despite the widespread use of ecological maps, and the extent to which they have become embedded in institutional practice, policy and law, no standard approach to ecosystem mapping has emerged, such that there are many valid ways of mapping the same landscape. Consensus is possible only when there is agreement on the spatial entities to be mapped. We propose a way of defining such entities and identifying them in any given landscape. Landscapes are conceived in terms of a conceptual biophysical template that constrains a wide range of ecological processes at various hierarchical levels. The template is conceived as comprising co-evolved associations of soils, vegetation, topography and hydrology that form a dynamic mosaic characteristic of a particular topographic, climatic and geological context that is continually being shaped by many perturbations. We synthesise themes from vegetation, soil and river sciences, using hierarchy theory to frame a perspective that facilitates the definition of mappable landscape entities at three hierarchical levels of organisation. These entities are conceived as archetypal structural-functional units, with form and process linked in conceptual models that underpin each archetype. We describe how our approach has been used to map ecological entities in Kruger National Park, South Africa, showing how the proposed framework integrates key system components, providing transparent foundations for transdisciplinary approaches to landscape management and science.
... Monimutkaisten ilmastomallien tuottaminen edellyttää paljon ei-inhimillistä työtä ja niiden roolina on kommunikoida laajemmalle yleisölle hyväksyttävät -ja ilmastonmuutokseen kontingentisti -kytkeytyvät riskit, jotka korostavat ilmiön arvaamattomuutta. Maantieteissä yhteiskunnan ja ympäristön arvaamattomat ajalliset ja tilalliset kehityskulut, joiden ymmärtämisellä voi olla vaikutusta jopa koko maapallon mittakaavassa, ovat aina olleet tutkimuksen kohteena (Phillips, 2004). Yhteiskunnallisesti ymmärrettynä kontingenssi myös haastaa poliittista normatiivisuutta ja avaa tilaa ilmiöihin ja suhteisiin liittyvälle ambivalenssille, monimuotoisuudelle ja vaihtelevuudelle (Eräsaari, 2015). ...
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Doctoral dissertation in human geography conceptualising scalar politics in the intersection of natural resource governance and energy policy by utilising policies and politics of wood--based bioenergy in Finland and EU as a case study.
... The availability of large spatial and temporal datasets offers the opportunity to move beyond this stage of validation and refinement. We underscore the comment by Phillips (2004) that our ability to measure and model may be outpacing our generation of new ideas to model, at least in undeveloped beach and dune systems. The challenge for linking micro-scale processes to meso-and macroscale landform evolution remains. ...
Trends in research on morphologic changes on beaches and foredunes on sandy shores are identified from the 1960s to the present. Research during this period evolved from early descriptive explanation and classification of profile change, to instrumented field investigations, to modelling of landform change at larger scales. Research efforts have become increasingly more collaborative, with increasing use of field instrumentation, data acquisition systems and remote sensing. Rich datasets are resulting in more comprehensive computational models. Human-altered systems are of increasing interest, but knowledge of these systems lags far behind knowledge of natural systems. Research is becoming more relevant to societal needs as the vulnerability of coastal populations increases. The need for investigation of understudied or unexplored environments, including human altered ones, is ongoing. Many basic research issues remain, but future studies would profit from the development of new models rather than validating or reconfiguring old models. Collaboration between geomorphologists and engineers may open up research opportunities, particularly in modifying beaches and dunes built for shore protection to provide natural values in restricted space. Application of models to enhance knowledge of effects of sea level rise and coastal storms would be useful to managers developing resiliency plans.
... Human geographers have led this dialogue (Braun, 2005;Demeritt, 1996), through applied geography studies (Johnston, 1996). Physical geographers have sought to re-examine the human-nature interface (Phillips, 2004) and adopt hermeneutic approaches to geomorphological investigations (Sugden, 1996), stressing the history and interpretation of phenomena rather than mere measurement (Blue & Brierley, 2016). 'Conversations' (sensu lato) across the divide (Harrison et al., 2004;Massey, 1999;2001a;Spencer & Whatmore, 2001) have ensued, but shall conversations or theoretical formulations alone suffice? ...
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The physical-human dichotomy in geography is long standing, revolving around the topics studied and outlooks adopted by the two groups of geographers. Three reasons are identified for its continuation—the present structure of academic geography, constrained interactions between physical and human geographers, and their publication strategies. Critics suggest that physical and human geography have become divergent strains because the physical environment has been accorded little relevance in human geographic studies, also putting forward the failure of physical geographers to integrate the human influence on physical processes and neglecting space in their studies. Citing examples, this paper argues that physical and human geography influence each other. It also demonstrates that physical geographers have sufficiently considered both space and time, and even space-time, through the concepts of scale and ergodicity. Some measures have been proposed to resuscitate the links between these two branches. These are reconnecting university and school geography, merging departments, teaching courses on geographical philosophies and theory building, engaging in integrative discourses, innovative classroom strategies, joint fieldwork, using geoinformatics, and conducting collaborative research. The paper concludes that physical and human geographers must communicate with each other more and engage in cross-disciplinary studies. Otherwise, they might undermine their responsibilities as geographers and spatial thinkers/analysts.
... Physical geography, as a disciplinary identity and institutional object, is rapidly disappearing. As has been noted by physical geographers since the turn of the century (e.g., Gregory et al. 2002;Phillips 2004;Winkler 2014), intensifying pressures to specialize across the environmental sciences have seen physical geographers directing their energies away from geographical institutions and towards building specialist and interdisciplinary scientific communities, conferences, journals, and disciplines. As a consequence, disciplinary forums such as geographical journals and conferences struggle to attract contributions from physical geographers (Winkler 2013), and many Geography departments have been restructured in ways that have marginalized or lost their identification with Geography (see Finlayson 2015;Frasier and Wikle 2017). ...
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This Special Issue evaluates the utility of Geography as a container for both understanding and interrogating changing priorities in the geosciences. The contributions to the Special Issue explore diverse drivers of change—from theoretical developments and empirical concerns to methodological fashions and political projects—and consider what a geographical tradition might add to (or gain from) these developments. Reflecting upon this Special Issue as an experiment in disciplinary discourse, we argue for collective attention towards disciplinary reproduction. While an intellectual case can continue to be made for the utility of physical geography for understanding planetary problems, if we do not produce new physical geographers who identify as geographers and who reinvest into geographical institutions, then physical geography as an intellectual tradition will cease to exist. Rather than being passive recipients of change in the geosciences, we can utilize disciplinary forums to critically examine our scientific priorities and build necessary alliances to affect the direction of these changes.
... Reconstructions of vegetation prior to significant landscape alteration provide critical baseline information for ecologists and land change scientists [1][2][3]. Globally, the vegetation that existed immediately prior to the expansion of agriculture from the 17th to the 19th centuries is of particular interest [4]. The land surveys that were carried out in North America at this time are a valuable archive of vegetation observations [5][6][7][8]. ...
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This paper reports on research to evaluate the potential of Original Texas Land Survey (OTLS) to generate information that can be used to quantitatively map historical vegetation cover and analyse pertinent aspects of vegetation ecology. Research was conducted in Brazos County in east-central Texas. OTLS data are easy to acquire and convert to geo-referenced autecological information. Reconstructing and mapping vegetation and land cover, conducting vegetation- and species-site analyses with to soil-ecological maps, reconstructing vegetation assemblages and forest structure can be easily accomplished. Due to the irregular surveying framework used by OTLS, mapping gradational grassland-savannah ecotone boundaries is impracticable.
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Three overarching principles governing patterns of geographic phenomena have been proposed that have been referred to by some as ‘laws of geography’. The first and the second principles address the spatial proximity and spatial heterogeneity of geographic phenomena. These principles, while powerful, fail to resonate with much geographical inquiry. The more recently proposed third principle concerns geographic similarity. The differences of it from the first two can be perceived in three basic aspects: principle expressed, form of expression and role of geographic examples (samples). The third principle emphasizes the geographic context of geographic variables in the form of geographic configuration, compared to a single spatial dimension that are emphasized in the first two principles. The third principle focuses on the comparative nature in the geographic configuration in terms of similarity, that is, in the form of ‘similar to’, as opposed to the relationships ‘between’ that are key to the first and second principles. The third principle emphasizes the individual representation of geographic examples, as opposed to the global representation of geographic examples. These differences not only distinguish the third principle as an important addition to the other two, but also provide a potentially transformative way to address the rigid requirements on samples in geographic analysis, particularly during this age when the collection and provision of geographic data are crowd-sourced and VGI-based. These differences also point to the potential of the third principle opening up a space of inquiry that would resonate more successfully with place-based approaches in human geography.
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The definition and description of geographic spheres is basic on the Geosystems studies. By the classic propost of V. Sotchava and G. Bertrand the geographic spheres are described by the properties of homogenization and differentiation. However, the context of Complexity has destaced the organizational properties of the systems of nature, declared new considerations to the studies of dualities. Unlike the hegemony of exogenous factors and 'universal' forces and subjunctives to the local, the relevance now is also to observe the endogenous mechanisms, which, from local interactions are responsible for the emergencies of organizational levels, totalities, autonomies. This article intends discuss the description of the geographic spheres in dialogue with the organizational perspective of the Complexity. The argumentation was realized from the analysis and confrontation of the classical geossistems p=roposals with the new understandings; aspects related to the dualities of operation and delimitation of the geographical spheres. As result, the geographic spheres become constructed from internal-endogenous relationships, receiving external influences, but processed at local level, by the relations of local differentiations. The endogenous dynamics become the main responsible for the constitution and maintenance of the spatial homogeneities. The minimum units of analysis can consider the human and cultural
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This article explores some of the philosophical and practical issues concerning the geomorphological exploration and study of landscapes. It argues that reductionist process geomorphology cannot account for emergent structures at the largest scales, and it discusses the ways in which geomorphology might develop in the future. Geography
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The growing recognition that spatial scale and heterogeneity affect ecological processes has focused heightened attention over the last decade on principles from the field of landscape ecology. Landscape ecologists, drawing on principles from a diverse array of disciplines and fields, including physical and human geography, focus explicitly on the interrelation between landscape structure (i.e., pattern) and landscape function (i.e., processes). In this article, I discuss the application of landscape ecological principles to a specific and pressing issue: nature reserve design and functioning. To do so, I outline and review five landscape ecological themes with relevance to reserve design and management: reserve distribution, reserve shape, landscape corridor design and functioning boundary dynamics, and reserve functioning. I particularly stress: 1) the role that landscape ecological theories may have in integrating existing principles from applied biogeography and population biology, and 2) the unique insights provided by a landscape ecological approach. Finally, I argue that biogeographers, because of our distinct skills, need to be more active in the development and advancement of landscape ecological theory.
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Archaeological evidence has rarely been used by soil scientists to explain the distribution of present-day soils, yet recent human influence is known to be important for all soils. Sites with abandoned prehistoric fields are commonly found throughout western Europe but the impact on present-day soils is not fully known. The studied site, Alstrup Krat, is an intact Bronze and Iron Age site with a well-preserved system of fields (infields) and common areas (common). It was abandoned around 2000 BP and has been beech wood since. This paper concerns the connection between the present-day soil distribution and this former land-use. The methods used in the field were soil survey, intensive ditching, and profile descriptions, and these were combined with soil physical and chemical laboratory analyses (texture, OC, N, P, Fe, Al, optical density on oxalate extracts [ODOE], and base ions). This revealed two distinct soil types whose borders coincided with the prehistoric common/infield border on the dominant parent material—sandy and gravelly tills. Hyperdystric Arenosols are found in the infields and Haplic Podzols in the common area. Entic Podzols or Spodic Arenosols are developed in the common/infield transition zone and in infields that were furthest from the dwellings during cultivation. Podzols had been expected in the infields, as Iron Age agriculture is believed to have exhausted the soil and caused podzolization. Chemical and physical differences between infields and the common area did not explain the observed soil distribution. The only difference between the two adjacent areas was prehistoric land-use until 2000 years ago. The main factor is probably agriculture during the Iron Age, which physically rejuvenated the soil in the infields. Archaeological information thus provided a powerful tool for explaining soil spatial distribution where standard soil science variables and methods would have failed.
Fluvial geomorphology has witnessed a continuing reduction in the time- and space-scales of research, with increasing emphasis on the dynamics of small site-specific river reaches. This shift can be regarded as part of a trend towards the understanding and explanation rather than description of how rivers change, which raises important questions regarding the relevance of such short time-scale and small space-scale research to understanding longer-term aspects of landform behaviour. The methodological challenges that arise from such intensive case study research are illustrated here using a detailed investigation of a river reach. Morphological changes within this reach are shown to be driven by: (i) catchment-scale processes associated with the interaction of discharge and sediment supply waves: and (ii) modification of these processes through morphological controls on erosion and deposition patterns and hence net channel change, The 'morphological conditioning' of channel response reflects the configurational aspects of channel change, and the importance of local characteristics in the understanding of system behaviour, Sensitivity to local conditions implies that short time-scale and small space-scale processes may be critical to channel behaviour, particularly if the system is interpreted in non-linear terms. Although it may be possible to identify statistically averaged stable states, non-linear system behaviour implies that system trajectories are sensitively dependent upon instantaneous system states. Thus, changes between average states can only be understood through an understanding of the sequence of configurational states through which the system evolves.
The unity of geography is a political rallying-point within the discipline at the present time. This paper examines four aspects of the argument for unity--human/physical integration; systematic fragmentation; spatial; and regional. It argues that systematic fragmentation is the greatest impediment to unity and academic utility.
The standard account of the reasoning process within geology views it as lacking a distinctive methodology of its own. Rather, geology is described as a derivative science, relying on the logical techniques exempli- fied by physics. I argue that this account is inadequateandskewsourunderstandingof both geology and the scientific process in general. Far from simply taking up and ap- plying the logical techniques of physics, geo- logicalreasoninghasdevelopeditsowndis- tinctive set of logical procedures. I begin with a review of contemporary philosophy of science as it relates to geol- ogy. I then discuss the two distinctive fea- tures of geological reasoning, which are its nature as (1) an interpretive and (2) a his- torical science. I conclude that geological reasoning offers us the best model of the type of reasoning necessary for confronting the type of problems we are likely to face in
A typical geostatistical analysis of soil data proceeds on the assumption that the properties of interest are the outcomes of random processes. Is the assumption reasonable? Many factors have contributed to the soil as we see it, both in the parent material and during its formation. Each has a physical cause, each must obey the laws of physics, and each is in principle deterministic except at the sub-atomic level. The outcome must therefore be deterministic. Yet such is the complexity of the factors in combination, their variation over the time, and the incompleteness of our knowledge, that the outcome, the soil, appears to us as if it were random. Only when we see the results of man's activities, such as the division of the land into fields, the imposition of irrigation, and ditches for drainage, do we recognize organized control. Clearly, the soil is not random, but except in the latter instances we are unlikely to go far wrong if we assume that it is. A second assumption underlying many geostatistical analyses is that of stationarity. We might ask if this holds. In the real world, we have ever only one realization of the random process in a particular region, and so the question has no answer. We can look to see whether regional averages are the same when we move from region to region. This means treating data from different regions as if they were different realizations of the same generating process. We should therefore change our question to ‘is a stationary model of the soil realistic?’ We can then examine the reality against the assumptions of our model. The soil is neither random nor stationary, but our models of it may be one or other or both. We should therefore ask whether our models are reasonable in the circumstances and whether they are profitable in leading to accurate predictions.
In-stream gravel mining, massive bridge piers, and channelization have all contributed to the geomorphic instability of the Lower Salt River channel in Arizona. Dam closure, changing dam operating rules, and the frequent modification of the channel bed have decreased our ability to predict the Salt River hydrology. Engineering practice has adapted to this situation and to a public that is increasingly intolerant of service disruptions by constructing larger bridges and extending levees. Building these larger structures may be counterproductive; future construction should not constrict the channel and should re-establish a braided river to decrease the energy available to the system.