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Submitted by jdp on Wed, 05/04/2022 - 02:13 pm

Everything is connected to everything else has been called the First Law—of ecology, of geography, and of environmental science. But why do environmental systems become so highly connected, and generally remain that way? Not quite satisfied to just say that's the way it is, and following Aristotle, who said that nature does nothing without purpose, I've been working on an answer to the why The First Law holds. I've produced a manuscript on this called Why Everything is Connected to Everything Else, abstract below, and attached to this post. I'm calling this a preprint, in hopes that it may eventually be published somewhere. But experience suggests that my odds of getting into a scientific journal are not great. Comments, criticisms, and corrections are welcome. 



Submitted by jdp on Sat, 04/09/2022 - 06:15 pm

Some recent kayak trips on the North River near Beaufort, NC (which, naturally enough, is north of North River, SC, but strangely enough well south of the other North River, NC, and even more strangely, south of the South River in the same county) revived some nagging questions about the source of sediment to coastal marshes. 

Freshly deposited mud on the North River marshes.

Most of my work in this context has dealt with larger rivers on the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains (drainage basins >15,000 km2) addressing (among many other things) how much fluvial sediment is delivered to estuaries and coastal wetlands, and where within those drainage basins it comes from? Some updates and reminiscences were covered in this post. Essentially, my work (and many others) has found that in many river systems much of the sometimes-considerable sediment loads from the upper watersheds never reaches the coastal zone, being stored as alluvium in lower river reaches. Much of what does reach the coast derives from coastal plain sources near the coast, not from upriver. 


Submitted by jdp on Mon, 04/04/2022 - 03:55 pm
Just published, in Ecosystems: Tree mortality may drive landscape formation: Comparative study from ten temperate forests. I am but one of 14(!) co-authors on this, but I've been involved in working out effects of trees on soils and landforms for 20 years. This study pulls together data from 10 protected forests and estimates the total volume of material affected by processes such as tree uprooting, and infilling of stump holes and decayed root channels, focusing on the differences between trees that die with their roots in the ground (eventually broken) vs. those that are uprooted. Uprooting-related soil volumes accounted annually for 0.01– 13.5 m3ha-1, reaching maximum values on sites with infrequent strong windstorms (European mountains). The redistribution of soils related to trees that died standing ranged annually between 0.17 and 20.7 m3ha-1 and were highest in the presence of non-stand-replacing fire (Yosemite National Park, USA). Comparing these results with long-term erosion rates indicates that tree effects may be a significant driver of landscape denudation.  The full abstract is given below.


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.