EGU Guest blogger

This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you’ve got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts Artal to pitch your idea.

Theoretical Geomorphology: Selling a seemingly boring topic

Theoretical Geomorphology: Selling a seemingly boring topic

Anne Voigtländer (TUM Munich) presented her poster at the EGU 2017 and attracted quite some attention. She drew everything per hand and besides chocolate bars and smiling mountains she touched some very interesting topics. Have a look and get inspired!

– written by Anne Voigtländer (TUM Munich) –

Have you ever tried to sell a text on theoretical geomorphology to students? Or even to your fellow scientists? Why is it a seemingly hard and boring topic? Well, reading a paper on theoretical geomorphology is seldom thrilling and you nearly never go about telling everybody about it – unless it has a sexy name like “badass geomorphology”. Even though it might be hard to digest, we base and structure our research, implicitly or explicitly, on those concepts, assumptions and rules/model perception. So why is it so unsexy to talk about theoretical geomorphology? One reason could be that abstract terms are used to describe even more abstract assumptions, i.e. “landscape sensitivity”, “barrier to change”, which suggest how we can discern and interpret processes, forms and interrelations. Hence they leave us with many vague terms and still no really good impression on what it is about, and more important, why the underlying theoretical assumptions matter. And isn’t the overall goal of presenting posters and writing articles, on whatever the topic might be, to be thought provoking?

Could theoretical geomorphology be, theoretically speaking, made sexy?

With my EGU 2017 poster (EGU2017-16469) I tried to tread off the traditional path overcoming some of the aforementioned issues, by focusing on apprehensive and playful graphics to explain theoretical thoughts on geomorphology. In geomorphology we already employ a figurative, formative and illustrative language and topics, so I decided to try out a comic strip-style to introduce and combine two theoretical concepts, namely subcritical crack growth and tectonic predesign. Both concepts touch on fundamental assumptions of driving (processes) and resisting (material) forces promoting fractures, landforms and landscapes without great force. I tried to use real world examples, like breaking a bar of chocolate, where you exploit the grooves to focus stresses. This then allows very little force to initiate and propagate a fracture through the chocolate or bedrock. By placing such images in your mind the theoretical part might be even sweet.

Communication of research and science, and with it the theoretical concepts we base it on, is essential. The abstract terms and academic mystification can act as barriers, which might hinder exchange and integration of our theoretical assumptions. But I am positive that we can change it.

– written by Anne Voigtländer (TUM Munich) –

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) –

Report from the Spring School on “Statistical analysis of hyperspectral and high-dimensional remote-sensing data using R”, Jena, Germany, March 13-17, 2017

The Spring School on “Statistical analysis of hyperspectral and high-dimensional remote-sensing data using R” was organized by the GIScience group lead by Prof. Alexander Brenning and two researchers from his GIScience research group, Patrick Schratz and Dr. Jannes Münchow. The school brought together a diverse group of 28 researchers (e.g. geoscientists, forestry, environmental studies) at different scientific levels (graduate students, PhD, postdoc, professor) from all over the world as far as Chile, Peru, Turkey, and Bosnia & Herzegowina. Overall, eight german and 16 non-german participants (20 male, 8 female) took part in this event. During five days the participants were introduced to the theoretical background of hyperspectral remote sensing data and learned in numerous hands-on sessions how to analyse and illustrate spatial data in R. The Spring School was organized within the LIFE Healthy Forest project and supported by the Michael Stifel Center Jena. In this short blog-post I want to give you a quick overview of the many, many things we learned during this intense “spatial stats-and-R-week”.

Participants and organizers of the Spring School on “Statistical analysis of hyperspectral and high-dimensional remote-sensing data using R” in Jena, © H. Petschko

On the first day of the summer school the participants obtained a theoretical introduction to hyperspectral remote-sensing data with examples focusing on the application of hyperspectral data in forest research. Marco Peña from the Alberto Hurtado University in Chile gave a lecture on “Introduction to hyperspectral remote sensing” which brought everyone to the same level. This very comprehensive introduction was followed by a talk on hyperspectral applications exemplified on a study on forests in the Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland by Aneta Modzelewska from the Forest Research Institute in Raszyn. The last talk on the first day was by Dr. Henning Buddenbaum (University of Trier) on “Hyperspectral remote sensing for measuring biochemical leaf parameters in forests”. Dr. Buddenbaum is involved in the Science Advisory Group – Forests and Natural Ecosystems in the EnMAP mission, a German hyperspectral satellite mission aiming at monitoring and characterising the Earth’s environment globally.

The second day was filled with hand-on R sessions. In a first session by Patrick Schratz we learned about his “must know” features of R, namely Rmarkdown, the apply-family and pipes. This was followed by two session focusing on the usage of R as a GIS. Dr. Jannes Münchow, who developed the package RQGIS, an interface between R and QGIS which allows the user to access QGIS algorithms from within R. Afterwards we were introduced to the package mapview, an R package by Dr. Tim Appelhans. Mapview is a GIS-like interactive graphing tool that is directly accessible within RStudio (or the web browser, if you are not using RStudio). It is especially helpful if you want to quickly do a visual check whether a certain analysis has produced reasonable results.

The third day started with a lecture and hands-on session on “Statistical and machine learning in remote sensing” by Prof. Alexander Brenning with a focus on linear discriminant analysis, support vector machine and random forest. A short overview of these statistical modeling methods and the application in R including a comprehensive tutorial can be found here. In the afternoon, Dr. Thomas Bocklitz presented a very different perspective in the application of spectral data analysis in histopathology. Afterwards, the participants had a chance to discuss their own research involving spatial modeling techniques or R-problem with the group and the experts from the GIScience group in Jena.

Solving R-problems with Dr. Jannes Münchow, © H. Petschko

Open session during the Spring School to discuss research projects of the participants, © H. Petschko

Discussion sampling designs with Prof. A. Brenning, © H. Petschko

Introduction to parallel processing in R with Patrick Schratz, © H. Petschko

On the fourth day, Partick Schratz briefly introduced the hsdar developed by Dr. Lukas Lehnert from University of Marburg. It can be used for processing and analysis on hyperspectral data in R. Prof. Brenning focused in his second session further on the assessment of model accuracy (non-spatial and spatial validation methods, variable importance) using the sperrorest package and dealing with high dimensionality in linear regression.

Lecture by Prof. A. Brenning on “Statistical and machine learning in remote sensing”, © H. Petschko

On the last day, we visited a monitoring site and a site with tornado damage (see images below) from 2016 in the Thuringian Forest together with three experts from the official authority “ThüringenForst”. In conclusion, the Spring School was a great event with many fruitful hands-on R-sessions during which the participants could learn helpful tricks in R, how to use R as a GIS and about statistical and machine learning in R. Hopefully there will be more academic “schools” like this one to follow in the future (maybe even with a thematic focus on geomorphology or natural hazards).

Tornado damage in the Thuringian Forest from September 2016 © P. Schratz

Field trip to the Thuringian Forest, © P. Schratz

written by Anna Schoch (PhD student from the University of Bonn)

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.