10th International Conference on Geomorphology
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

 Humans as geomorphic agents: including humans in critical zone science to enhance Anthropocene landscape sustainability 

Larissa A. Naylor1 and the UK China CZO Team*
Larissa A. Naylor and the UK China CZO Team
  • 1University of Glasgow, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, East Quadrangle, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, United Kingdom (larissa.naylor@glasgow.ac.uk)
  • *A full list of authors appears at the end of the abstract

Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) explore the deep evolution of landscapes from the bottom of groundwater to the top of vegetation, representing a bridge between geology, geomorphology and ecology. Human impacts on the landscape, notably agriculture and urbanisation, are key drivers of terrestrial landscape change, with these challenges providing a focus of a new class of 3rd generation Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs).  Four of these CZOs were established in China to understand how environmental processes, from the top of vegetation through 10’s to 100’s of metres of soil to bedrock, interact and are affected by land management.  The China CZOs cover vastly different geomorphological settings in karst, loess, and red soil environments that encompass over 1/3 of China’s land area and support 25% of the population. The 4thCZO lies in the peri-urban coastal zone, reflecting urban migration that is growing in China, with over 1/6 of China’s population already migrated from rural areas and 52% of the population in cities.

This talk provides an overview of key geomorphologically relevant findings from these CZOs, obtained by a team of over 50 principal-/co-investigators and many other postdoctoral scientists and students. An over-arching theme is integrating humans into critical zone science to tackle threats to landscape tipping points being crossed, impacting on food and environmental security.  While 2nd generation CZOs capture human impact, the role of human decision-making has been largely overlooked. A 3rd generation approach to CZ science emerged from the China-UK CZO programme (2016-2020). Here, human geography informed knowledge exchange research complemented traditional multidisciplinary CZ science. This provided novel insights into human-environment interactions (and humans as geomorphic agents) that aided the interpretation of empirical data and helped identify the greatest financial pressures on farmers that also adversely impact their local landscape. It also illustrates how scientific sampling in heavily human-modified landscapes can be adjusted to better incorporate the impacts of humans as geomorphic agents. The approach also identified how local people chose to learn more environmentally and economically sustainable farming methods, thereby guiding fit-for-purpose knowledge exchange activities between CZ scientists and key stakeholders. We thus outline the benefits of incorporating learnings about human behaviours and their beneficial impacts into CZO projects. We demonstrate that human geography needs to form a key dimension of multi-disciplinary CZ science approaches to enable identification of the mechanisms underlying human contributions and pressures on CZ functions. Crucially, deep understanding of impacts of environmental and economic stressors on human livelihoods can provide the rationale for policy and local action to achieve resilient social-ecological systems. We thus show how 3rd generation CZOs that combine physical and human geography, underpinned by local knowledge, can provide practical feedback to communities in stressed environments, enabling better achievement of sustainable development goals and planetary health.


UK China CZO Team:

UK INVESTIGATORS: Joseph Oyesiku-Blakemore, Jo Smith, Josie Geris, Chris Soulsby - University of Aberdeen; Penny Johnes - University of Bristol; Timothy Quine, Iain Hartley, Ian Bateman, Jennifer Dungait, Sophie Green - University of Exeter; Ying Zheng, Susan Waldron, Larissa Naylor - University of Glasgow; Andy Binley - University of Lancaster; Steven Banwart, Sarah Dennis, Alexis Comber - University of Leeds; Caroline Meharg, Alexander Meharg - Queen’s University Belfast; Lianhai Wu, Paul Harris, Tom Misselbrook - Rothamsted Research; Tim Daniel - The University of Sheffield; David Oliver - University of Stirling; Mark Hodzon - University of York; CHINA INVESTIGATORS: Ganlin Zhang, Xinhua Peng - Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Tongxu Liu, Fangbai Li - Institute of Eco-Environmental and Soil Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Xuefa Wen, Jing Tian, Laiming Huang, Mingan Shao, Xiaoxu Jia, Xinyu Zhang - Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Xinyu Zhang- Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Chenglong Tu - Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Yunqiang Wang - Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Yihe Lü - Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Yafeng Wang - Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Xianli Xu - Institute of Subtropical Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Yong-Guan Zhu - Institute of Urban Environment,Chinese Academy of Sciences; Jun Fan, Mingbin Huang, Xiaorong Wei, Yuanjun Zhu - Northwest A&F University; Jianwu Tang - Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology; Hongyan Guo - Nanjing University; Fang Huang - University of Science and Technology of China; Si-Liang Li, Zhaoliang Song , Xi Chen - Tianjin University; Yang Yang - Beijing Normal University; Hongyan Liu, Jian Peng - Peking University

How to cite: Naylor, L. A. and the UK China CZO Team:  Humans as geomorphic agents: including humans in critical zone science to enhance Anthropocene landscape sustainability , 10th International Conference on Geomorphology, Coimbra, Portugal, 12–16 Sep 2022, ICG2022-551, https://doi.org/10.5194/icg2022-551, 2022.