BSG – Modelling Human Impacts on Geomorphic Processes

This week sees the Annual Conference of the British Society for Geomorphology (BSG – formerly the British Geomorphological Research Group, BGRG). Running from Wednesday 4th to Friday 6th, the conference is being held at the University of Birmingham in the UK. With the theme Geomorphology: A 2020 Vision, recent developments and advances in the field, such as models and modelling approaches, will be explored and debated, and the potential to exploit emerging approaches to solve key challenges throughout pure and applied Geomorphology will be discussed.

With these recent and future advances in mind, one of my PhD advisors, Prof. John Wainwright, will present a paper entitled Modelling Human Impacts on Geomorphic Processes which contains work originating from my thesis. He’ll be presenting it in the first session of Wednesday afternoon, Process Modelling: Cross-Cutting Session. I’m sure it will turn out to be an interesting session, and one that continues the recent thirst for inter- and cross-disciplinary research. Here’s the abstract:

Modelling Human Impacts on Geomorphic Processes
John Wainwright and James Millington

Despite the recognition that human impacts play a strong – if not now predominant – rôle in vegetation and landscape evolution, there has been little work to date to integrate these effects into geomorphic models. This inertia has been the result partly of philosophical considerations and partly due to practical issues.

We consider different ways of integrating human behaviour into numerical models and their limitations, drawing on existing work in artificial intelligence. Practical computing issues have typically meant that most work has been very simplistic. The difficulty of estimating time-varying human impacts has commonly led to the use of relatively basic scenario-based models, particularly over the longer term. Scenario-based approaches suffer from two major problems. They are typically static, so that there is no feedback between the impact and its consequences, even though the latter might often lead to major behavioural modifications. Secondly, there is an element of circularity in the arguments used to generate scenarios for understanding past landform change, in that changes are known to have happened, so that scenarios big enough to produce them are often generated without considering the range of possible alternatives.

In this paper we take examples from two systems operating in different contexts and timescales, but employing a similar overall approach. First, we consider human occupations in prehistoric Europe, in particular in relation to the transition from hunter-gatherer to simple agricultural strategies. The consequences of this transition for patterns of soil erosion are investigated. Secondly, an example from modern Spain will be used to evaluate the effects of farmers’ decision-making processes on land use and vegetation cover, with subsequent impacts on fire régime. From these agent-based models and from other examples in the literature, conclusions will be drawn as to future progress in developing these models, especially in relation to model definition, parameterization and testing.

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