The Human Dimensions of Geomorphological Work in Britain

The Human Dimensions of Geomorphological Work in Britain
Ian Douglas
Nigel Lawson
Journal of Industrial Ecology, Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 9–33

The transfer of materials from the natural environment to the urban and industrially built environment produces two broad impacts on the landscape: a removal of materials from the earth's surface (a change in geomorphology) and the accumulation of a stock of concrete and other materials elsewhere in cities and industrial zones (a change in urban morphology). Thus, industrial activity transforms natural landscapes and, in doing so, has to be considered to be a geological and geomorphological agent. On the global scale, the deliberate shift of around 57,000 Mt (megatons)/yr of materials through mineral extraction processes exceeds the annual transport of sediment to the oceans by rivers (some 22,000 Mt/yr) by almost a factor of three. On the island of Britain, the total deliberate shift of earth‐surface materials is between 688 and 972 Mt/yr, depending on whether or not the replacement of overburden in opencast coal mining is taken into account. The export of sediment to the oceans by rivers is only 10 Mt/yr whereas the export of materials in solution is about 40 Mt/yr, making the deliberate materials shift nearly 14 times larger than the shift caused by natural processes. Processes examined by industrial ecology, such as direct excavation, urban development, and waste dumping are those most driving changes in the shape of the British landscape today. These transformations pose added costs. Industrial ecology will produce an understanding of the hidden costs associated with these transformations. Such an understanding will help in planning and encouraging the reuse of materials everywhere and in identifying the key areas for intervention to reduce off‐site geomorphological impacts and costs.

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