WRDS Library [Home]
Digital Library Publications Videos Card Catalog

WWRC 89-27


Geomorphology is the science that studies landfonns and soils in a historical and functional context, including morphological elements, physical and chemical processes, and materials of composition. If training in geography provides a special opportunity for making contributions to geomorphology, it is in studies that examine interactions between geomorphic and related biophysical systems, human interference in geomorphic systems, and predictive spatial (dynamic and statistical) modeling of morphological, cascading, and process-response systems in geomorphology. These opportunities closely parallel the "integration," "synthesis," and "prediction," respectively, described by Orme (1985) as the preferred goals of the geographer's science.

This chapter describes the impact of American geographers on the discipline of geomorphology. This is accomplished through:

This is not intended as a historical review of geographical geomorphology, but rather a report on the current aims, methods, and central ideas, as well as possible future directions that geographers may pursue. Trends in the studies of soils and physical environments of the Quaternary are included, reflecting the natural ties of these fields to geomorphology. American geographers in geomorphology are defined as those who practice their profession in the United States, a definition that includes approximately 5% of the total AAG membership and 21% of all practicing geomorphologists in the United States.

Separating the contributions of American geographers from the contributions of geomorphologists having backgrounds other than geography, and from geographers who practice geomorphology outside the U.S., is a task that has not been pursued in the literature. This is a separation that is somewhat artificial in light of the increasing interaction between geography and other disciplines, and the increasing opportunities for exchange of information between colleagues in countries worldwide. Indeed, Vitek (1988) argued that institutions (professional societies, universities, and informal groups) and the transfer of enthusiasm and ideas by influential practitioners have become more important factors in the advance of the discipline than ones particular field of training.

A significant portion of the research by American geographers in geomorphology is concerned with topics dial are not geographical in the sense of integration, synthesis, and predictive spatial modeling. Nevertheless, it is critical to solidifying the position of geomorphology within geography to identify a sample of those works that pursue the integration-synthesis-prediction themes, among other important contributions.

A number of manuscripts have been published recently that address various aspects of the field: the status of geomorphology (Piny 1982, 1985; Hart 1986; Bashenina et al. 1987; Cooke 1987; Tricart 1987); the function of geomorphology within physical geography (Gregory 1985); and the position of geomorphology (and other subfields) in geography (Johnston 1985). Baker (1986) and Ritter (1988) provide the perspective of American geologists on the nature of geomorphology. Walker and Orme (1986) offer some clues as to the nature of geomorphology at an international level in the 1980s, based on themes evident in the First International Conference on Geomorphology. These reviews all paint an optimistic future for the discipline of geomorphology, but the influence of American geographers is not apparent.

The themes, developments, potentials, and needs of geomorphology in geography were stated at the beginning of the decade by Graf and his colleagues, although the contributions by American geographers were not singled out. Graf et al. (1980) applauded the new pluralism in geomorphology and pointed out the following major developments, all of which remain valid late in the decade:

. . . an increased dependence on field research (an old tradition revisited), more realistic expectations from research tools, a resurgence of interest in man-land relationships with a concomitant dependence on the historical approach, an expanded appreciation of the hydrologic cycle, a reinvestigation of morphogenetic regions, new interest in planetary surfaces other than the earths, more detailed investigations of event magnitude and frequency, and an involvement with applied problems.

In another key review of the discipline, Graf (1984) reported on the uneven distribution of field localities for major research efforts in American geomorphology since 1817. He warned of the dangers of applying geomorphic theories developed from research in one region to investigations in another region without recognition of and adjustment for this spatial bias, particularly with respect to mountain regions and fluvial systems.

Costa and Graf (1984) examined the numbers, professional affiliations, publications and locations of geomorphologists and Quaternary geologists in the United Stales, a review that provided the first statement of the relative contribution of geographers to geomorphology.

Water Resources Publications List
Water Resources Data System Library | Water Resources Data System Homepage