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Submitted by jdp on Thu, 02/17/2022 - 06:38 am

The Low of Scale Independence has just been published in the journal Annals of GIS (vol. 28, p. 15-29). The article is open-source, and the full text can be obtained here. The abstract is shown below. This artiicle represents a summary and synthesis of my thoughts and research on scale linkage over a period of more than 35 years. 



Submitted by jdp on Mon, 02/14/2022 - 04:18 pm

This installment continues the story of my collaboration (along with fellow scientist Pavel Šamonil) with Czech artist Petr Mores in combining visual art and science to tell the story of landscape evolution of forests, topography, and soils in the Šumava Mountains, Czech Republic (part 1; part 2). Here, I take a crack at brief narratives for four key parts of the story—trees, water, soil, and landforms. All the accompanying illustrations are from Mores—closeups are detail from his Biogeomorphological Domination piece, shown and analyzed in parts 1 and 2. Others are from preparatory work Petr did for that piece, and other examples of his paintings and drawings in the forests of the Czech Republic.

Tree story (general time scale: decades)


Submitted by jdp on Wed, 02/09/2022 - 12:30 pm

In the first part of this thread I tried to show how artist Petr Mores collaborated with Pavel Šamonil and myself to depict certain landscapes of the Šumava Mountains in central Europe to show interactions among topography, geology, soils, and vegetation. In this installment I’ll get a bit more specific with respect to the story we are trying to tell.

The short version of the story is that Norway spruce (Picea abies) modifies its environment (ecosystem engineering), mainly through biogeomorphic effects, in a way that largely controls the development of landforms and hydrologic fluxes. In doing this, Picea abies helps maintain environmental factors that favor the success of spruce relative to competing trees.

Here’s the way Pavel and I depicted it in a scientific article (Phillips and Samonil, 2021; available here):

Biogeomorphic effects of Picea abies limiting the development of fluvial dissection and channelized surface drainage (Fig. 12 from Phillips & Samonil, 2021).


Submitted by jdp on Tue, 02/08/2022 - 05:02 pm

Over the past decade(!) I have worked off and on with Czech colleagues on various aspects of the coevolution of soils, landforms, and ecosystems in forests, particularly unmanaged forests of central Europe.  In the course of working on one of those projects, dealing with biogeomorphological domination of hydrology, geomorphology, and vegetation in high elevations of the Sumava Mountains, we began to think, not for the first time, about different ways to tell the story. The conventional scientific article version is described, and is available, here.

I recalled meeting, and being impressed by, the work of an artist friend of my research colleague Pavel Šamonil--Petr Mores, based in Brno, Czech Republic (yes, I know, there’s a vowel shortage in Brno). Pavel connected me to Petr, and we began thinking and working on scientific storytelling through Petr’s medium, painting.  I have previously blogged about these conversations: Pictures of landscape evolution, Underground art.


Submitted by jdp on Thu, 01/13/2022 - 07:37 am

Catchy title, huh?

This is a story about scientific methodology and how experience, reasoning, and theory from quite different starting points (the consilience part) can lead to the same intellectual destination (equifinality). These starting points range from dialectical materialism, which is redolent of Marxism, to cybernetics, which smacks of computer science and robotics. 

The common destination is an approach to science—and I am focused on geosciences and ecosystem science—based firstly on recognition that our objects of study are interconnected systems of mutually adjusting components. This is straightforward to understand and explain. Certainly much has been, and continues to be, learned from reductionist science that seeks to isolate these interacting components.1 But no ecologist, geographer, pedologist, geologist, etc. would argue that we can ultimately understand our objects of study without putting the pieces together; without at least considering contexts and interactions. 


Submitted by jdp on Thu, 01/06/2022 - 09:00 am

The parable of the boiling frog holds that if you drop the frog into boiling water it will do everything possible to get out immediately and avoid being cooked alive. On the other hand, if you gently place the frog into a pot with water at room temperature it will stay calm. Then, as you very gradually turn up the heat, the amphibian will get ever groggier until the water reaches the boiling point and kills it. The frog parable/metaphor has been employed many times in many ways to reflect human tendencies to be able to accept and adapt to minor incremental changes (or to not even notice them) until finally some threshold is reached whereby we realize things have, not to put to fine a point on it, gone to shit. The frog is boiled.

In terms of actual biology and frog behavior there is no evidence that the parable is accurate. But as a metaphor for out perceptions, it is often right on target.


Submitted by jdp on Tue, 01/04/2022 - 03:51 pm

In 2018 Melissa Parsons and Martin Thoms (quoting various academic sources), noted that resilience has, on one hand, been described as a powerful lens through which to view major issues, a systems approach to understanding change, and an organizing concept for radical change. On the other hand, resilience has been characterized as having the potential to become a vacuous buzzword, a word of the year, and an academic bandwagon (Parsons and Thoms, 2018: 242). 

I will not parse the various meanings or explore the dimensions of resilience here; it is clear by now that due to the various meanings attached to the term, one should always define it if a specific version of resilience is intended, or perhaps choose a different, less contested term. Discussions of resilience, by virtually any definition, are critical now in the context of planning for and responding to climate change. Significant changes are happening now and will continue (and likely accelerate) in the future, and Earth systems (including humans) will have no choice but to respond one way or another. 


Submitted by jdp on Thu, 11/11/2021 - 04:32 pm

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.


Submitted by jdp on Thu, 11/11/2021 - 03:55 pm

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: 


Submitted by jdp on Mon, 10/25/2021 - 09:00 am

When I was an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech from 1976-79, in several environmental science, geography, and ecology classes we were taught about global warming and climate change due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The physics behind warming due to increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases had been well known for nearly a century by that time, and the fact that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were increasing was also firmly established. Empirical evidence suggesting that human-caused climate change was already occurring was beginning to accumulate.