The topographic signature of anthropogenic geomorphic processes

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 3:10 PM
Paolo Tarolli and Giulia Sofia, TESAF, Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry, University of Padova, Legnaro (PD), Italy
Within an abiotic-dominated context, geomorphologic patterns and dynamics are single expressions of trade-offs between the physical resistance forces, and the mechanical and chemical forces related to climate and erosion. Recently, however, it has become essential for the geomorphological community to take into account also biota as a fundamental geomorphologic agent acting from local to regional scales. However, while there is a recent flourishing literature about the impacts of vegetation on geomorphic processes, the study of anthropogenic pressure on geomorphology is still at its early stages. Humans are indeed among the most prominent geomorphic agents, redistributing land surface, and causing drastic changes to the geomorphic organization of the landscape (e.g. intensive agriculture, urbanization), with direct consequences on land degradation and watershed response. The reconstruction or identification of artificial or anthropogenic topographies, therefore, provides a mechanism for quantifying anthropogenic changes to the landscape systems in the context of the Anthropocene epoch. High-resolution topographic data derived from the recent remote sensing technologies (e.g. lidar, SAR, SfM), offer now new opportunities to recognize better understand geomorphic processes from topographic signatures, especially in engineered landscapes where the direct anthropic alteration of processes is significant. It is possible indeed to better recognize human-induced geomorphic and anthropogenic features (e.g. road networks, agricultural terraces), and the connected erosion. The study presented here may allow improved understanding and targeted mitigation of the processes driving geomorphic changes during urban development and help guide future research directions for development-based watershed studies. Human society is deeply affecting the environment with consequences on the landscape. It is therefore fundamental to establish greater management control over the Earth’s rapidly changing ecosystems.

Tarolli, P. (2014). High-resolution topography for understanding Earth surface processes: opportunities and challenges, Geomorphology, 216, 295–312, doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.03.008.