GM 2020/2021 Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal Lectures


GM 2020/2021 Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal Lectures
Convener: Daniel Parsons
| Thu, 29 Apr, 18:00–20:00 (CEST)

Session assets

Presentations: Thu, 29 Apr

Chairperson: Daniel Parsons
Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal Lecture 2020
Tom Coulthard

Apophenia describes the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. Francis Bacon was one of the first to identify its role as a "human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds". Since then, experiments using streams of randomly generated binary sequences show a propensity for people to believe random data fluctuates more than it actually does. A more mainstream example of this is gamblers fallacy, where lucky or unlucky streaks are identified in the random selection of a roulette wheel. Furthermore, humans can also be influenced by a pre-existing ideas or a narrative that they then transpose into their findings leading to tending to support a hypothesis instead of disproving (confirmation bias).  

As much of geomorphological science involves the interpretation of data, we argue that the persuasiveness of a narrative and human difficulties in recognizing genuinely random data could lead to apophenia. This presentation examines where apophenia might affect geomorphology, using examples from sediment stratigraphy, signal shredding, river meandering and the numerical modelling of landscape systems. In particular, we focus on how seductive it can be to link changes in landscape to drivers when there are potentially hazardous gaps in the data we are using.

In Geomorphology correlation has for long been substituted by causation. However, with emerging data rich methods including structure from motion, seismology, remote sensing and numerical modelling, former ‘classic’ techniques of qualitative interpretation can give way to quantitative hypothesis testing.

How to cite: Coulthard, T.: Geomorphic Apophenia: Inferring meaning where there could be none?, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-16452,, 2021.

Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal Lecture 2021
Joanna Bullard

The world’s largest contemporary dust sources are in low-lying, hot, arid regions, however the processes of dust production and emission also operate in cold climate regions at high latitudes and altitudes.  This lecture focuses on contemporary dust emissions originating from the high latitudes (≥50°N and ≥40°S) and explores three themes before setting out an integrated agenda for future research.  The first theme considers how much dust originates from the high latitudes and methods for determining this.  Estimates from field studies, remote sensing and modelling all suggest around 5% of contemporary global dust emissions originate in the high latitudes, a similar proportion to that from the USA (excluding Alaska) or Australia.  This estimate is a proportion of a highly uncertain figure as quantification of dust emissions from Eurasian high latitudes is limited, and the contribution of local and regional emissions (from any latitude) to the global total is thought to be considerably under-estimated.  Emissions are particularly likely to be under-estimated where dust sources are topographically constrained, and where cold climates reduce vertical mixing of dust plumes restricting the altitudes to which the dust can rise, because both these characteristics present particular challenges for modelling and remote sensing approaches. The second theme considers the drivers of contemporary high latitude dust emissions that reflect complex interactions among sediment supply, sediment availability and transport capacity across different geomorphic sub-systems.  These interactions determine the magnitude, frequency and timing of dust emissions at a range of time scales (diurnal, seasonal, decadal) but both the drivers and response can be nonlinear and hard to predict.  The third and final theme explores the importance of high latitude dust cycling for facilitating cross-boundary material fluxes and its impact in the atmosphere, cryosphere, and terrestrial and marine ecosystems.  This is influenced not only by the quantity and timing of dust emissions but also by dust properties such as particle-size and geochemistry.  Landscape sensitivity, spatial environmental transitions and temporal environmental change are highlighted for their importance in determining how the interactions among drivers and cycles are likely to change in response to future environmental change.

How to cite: Bullard, J.: High Latitude Dust: contemporary emissions and geomorphic interactions, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-11854,, 2021.



  • Marco Van De Wiel, Coventry University, United Kingdom
  • David Nash, University of Brighton, United Kingdom