Stormy Geomorphology

Stormy Geomorphology

 – written by James Tempest (University of Cambridge), Larissa A. Naylor (University of Glasgow), Tom Spencer and Iris Möller (University of Cambridge) –

Extreme storm and flood events are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity across the globe causing significant geomorphic change throughout many landscapes often with detrimental impacts on local populations.

Boat washed onto shore following major storm surge in N. Norfolk, U.K. (credits: James Tempest)

In 2014 an international meeting hosted by the Royal Geographical Society and British Society for Geomorphology brought together world-leading experts in this field to showcase the fundamental role geomorphology plays in the age of extremes. The outcomes of the meeting were published in a special issue of Earth Surface Processes and Landforms which included a State of Science paper on this topic (see below). These papers highlighted how geomorphic contributions can enhance our ability to predict, measure and manage the landscape to be more resilient to effects of extreme events.

Predicting extreme hydrological events are an important area of research but such forecasts are often limited by the short length of current river flow records which only extend to the mid 20th Century. Palaeogeomorphology studies resolve such issues by reconstructing historical flood events thereby extending the flood record further back in time to capture these extreme events. Such records not only improve the forecasting of extreme events by providing models with much needed additional data but also allow us to interpret the interactions between geomorphic dynamics, human impacts and changes in climate regimes.

Extreme events witnessed over recent years have raised awareness of policy-makers and practitioners about the important role that geomorphology can play in both managing the landscape and human impacts to these extreme events. Geomorphic processes can both mediate and increase the geomorphological impacts of extreme events, influencing societal risk. This includes determining the resilience and recovery of landscapes, such as barrier islands, to extreme events that may offer some form of natural flood defence. In addition, geomorphological science is now regularly used to deliver nature-based management approaches, such as the creation of coastal wetlands. Such approaches are delivering more sustainable forms of flood and storm defence that are effective in reducing damage and destruction brought about by extreme events.

Sea-defence repair and re-distribution of sediments at Chesil Beach, U.K. following 2014 storms (credits: James Tempest)

Geomorphological science is undoubtedly improving our understanding of flood risk through extreme events yet it is still under-appreciated and under-utilised by the engineering community and policy-makers. Future climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies must consider geomorphology as an important component in determining and managing the response of landscapes in order to protect human assets in an age of extreme flood and storm events.


 – written by James Tempest (University of Cambridge), Larissa A. Naylor (University of Glasgow), Tom Spencer and Iris Möller (University of Cambridge) –

Soil is not dirt cheap: Soils, Sustainable Development Goals, and Geomorphologists.

Soil is not dirt cheap: Soils, Sustainable Development Goals, and Geomorphologists.

– written by Solmaz Mohadjer – 

Does contaminated soil make your bones go soft? What if you are told to stop growing vegetables in your garden because the soil is too toxic? What if farmers refuse to produce nutritionally valuable crops because of risk of massive floods? What would you do if you are forced to leave your farm due to fear of floods?

Surprisingly, these are the kinds of questions many farmers and families in Europe are asking themselves. These issues are as real as the tears of a farmer interviewed as part of a documentary titled RECARE (watch trailer) that was shown at GeoCinema at this year’s General Assembly. What threats soils and what one can do to prevent and remediate soil degradation are the focus of RECARE, a multidisciplinary team of different organizations brought together to tackle such vital issues.

Soil matters. Civilizations have flourished and collapsed because of fertile soil (or lack thereof). This is what Dave Montgomery emphasized in his book “Dirt” and at a well-attended and highly popular lecture at Town Hall in downtown Seattle many years ago. I was an undergraduate student back then, but his words stayed with me to this day: ‘We are slowly removing our planet’s life-giving skin.’ He explained how plow-based agriculture can bring the erosion rate of a flat place like Kansas close to a place like the Himalayas, and that with population growth, soil does not have a chance to regenerate.

It is no surprise that the 2030 agenda for sustainable development highlights soil-related issues within its 17 goals and 169 targets. Want to fight against poverty? Malnutrition? Climate change? Think soils and land. And if you are a geoscientist, you have a role to play whether you know it or not. In fact, many of the sustainable development issues are at the heart of geoscience disciplines (e.g., sustainable agriculture, water and sanitation, and climate change). These goals and the role of geoscientists in addressing them were discussed for the first time during this year’s General Assembly. If you missed this session, check out the curriculum developed by researchers at the University of Tübingen to explore these goals and to find out how you can contribute.

On the first day of the General Assembly, I had a chance to meet the EGU Division President of Geomorphology, Peter van der Beek, and to get his thoughts on the role of geomorphology in tackling sustainable development issues. Peter listed soil erosion and conservation as well as mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and hazards as topics that challenge today’s geomorphologists. Of all the 17 sustainable development goals, he highlighted climate action (goal 13) and Life on Land (goal 15) as areas where geomorphologists can make a significant contribution. “Geomorphologists also make indirect contributions to Zero Hunger (goal 2) and Clean Water and Sanitation (goal 6),” he added.

Which goal(s) is your research contributing to? Check out the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform and/or connect with organizations (such as Geology for Global Development) that can help you make a contribution toward some of these goals.



Solmaz Mohadjer is the founder of the ParsQuake Project, an initiative with a mission to increase earthquake awareness, education, and preparedness in the global Persian community. She is currently a geohazard PhD researcher in at the University of Tübingen, Germany, with strong interest in science education and outreach.



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