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Geomorphology and General Systems Theory
GEOLOGICAL SURVEY PROFESSIONAL PAPER 500-B

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Geomorphology and General Systems Theory
By RICHARD J. CHORLEY

THEORETICAL PAPERS IN THE HYDROLOGIC AND GEOMORPHIC SCIENCES

GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

PROFESSIONAL PAPER

500-B

UNITED

STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON : 1962

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR STEWART L. UDALL, Secretary GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Thomas B. Nolan, Director

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office Washington 25, D.C.

CONTENTS
Abstract_ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Geomorphology and general systems theory__--_-__-__..-_.______________________________________________________ Acknowledgments__ _-_--------_--__-__--__-_---_.._______--_________________________-________-_________-_-Eef erences._--_-__-____-----------_--_-------_-_-_.._--____-_____-_________-_--______---____-_____-__-_-__ -in

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THEORETICAL PAPERS IN THE HYDROLOGIC AND GEOMORPHIC SCIENCES GEOMORPHOLOGY AND GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY By EICHARD J. CHORLET "[Nature] * * * creates ever new forms; what exists has nover existed before, what has existed returns not again everything Is new and yet always old * * *. There is an eternal life, a coming into being and a movement in her; and yet she goesi not forward." (Goethe: Essay on Nature).1 ABSTRACT

Finally, seven advantages are suggested as accruing from attempts to treat landforms within an open system framework: 1. The focusing of attention on the possible relationships between form and process. 2. The recognition of the multivariate character of most geomorphic phenomena. 3. The acceptance of a more liberal view of changes of form through time than was fostered by Davisian thinking. 4. The liberalizing of attitudes toward the aims and methods of geomorphology. 5. The directing of attention to the whole landscape assemblage, rather than to the often minute elements having supposed historical significance. 6. The encouragement of geomorphic studies in those many areas where unambiguous evidence for a previous protracted erosional history is lacking. 7. The introduction into geography, via geomorphology, of the open systematic model which may prove of especial relevance to students of human geography. GEOMORPHOLOGY AND GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY

An appreciation of the value of operating within an appropriate general systematic model has emerged from the recognition that the interpretation of a given body of information depends as much upon the character of the model adopted as upon any inherent quality of the data itself. Fluvial geomorphic phenomena are examined within the two systematic models which have been found especially useful in physics and biology closed and open systems, for which simple analogies arei given. Certain qualities of classic closed systems, namely the progressive increase in entropy, the irreversible character of operation, the importance of the initial system conditions, the absence of intermediate equilibrium states and the historical bias, permit comparisons to be made with the Davisian concept of cyclic erosion. The restrictions which were inherently imposed upon Davis' interpretation of landforms thus become more obvious. It is recognized, however, that no single theoretical model can adequately encompass the whole of a natural complex, and that the open system model is imperfect in that, while embracing the concept of grade, the progressive reduction of relief cannot be conveniently included within it. The open system characteristic of a tendency toward a steady state by self-regulation is equated with the geomorphic concepts of grade and dynamic equilibrium which were developed by Gilbert and later "dynamic" workers and, despite continued relief reduction, it is suggested that certain features of landscape geometry,...
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