Geomorphic effectiveness: a linear concept in a non-linear world

Peyton E. Lisenby*, Jacky Croke, Kirstie A. Fryirs

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    38 Citations (Scopus)


    Geomorphic effectiveness has been an influential concept in geomorphology since its introduction by Reds Wolman and John Miller in 1960. It provided a much needed framework to assess the significance of an event by comparing event magnitude to the resultant geomorphic effects. Initially, this concept was applied primarily in river channels, under the linear assumption that geomorphic responses to similarly sized flood events will be consistent. Numerous authors have since attempted to quantify a direct, proportional relationship between event magnitude and different forms of geomorphic response in a variety of geomorphic settings. In doing so, these investigations applied an array of metrics that were difficult to compare across different spatiotemporal scales, and physiographic and geomorphic environments. Critically, the emergence of other geomorphic concepts such as sensitivity, connectivity, thresholds, and recovery has shown that relationships between causes (events) and geomorphic effects (responses) are often complex and non-linear.

    This paper disentangles the complex historical development of the geomorphic effectiveness concept and reviews the utility of various metrics for quantifying effectiveness. We propose that total energy (joules) is the most appropriate metric to use for quantifying the magnitude of disturbance events (cause) and volumetric sediment flux associated with landform modification is the most appropriate metric for quantifying geomorphic effects. While both metrics are difficult to quantify, they are the only ones which facilitate comparison across a range of spatiotemporal scales (comparability) in a variety of geomorphic environments (flexibility). The geomorphic effectiveness concept can continue to be useful provided that geomorphologists use flexible and comparable metrics. Today, geomorphologists are better prepared to consider the influence of non-linear processes on determinations of geomorphic effectiveness, allowing investigators to not only determine if a disturbance event was effective but also to explain why or why not.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4-20
    Number of pages17
    JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
    Issue number1
    Early online date21 Jan 2017
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


    • disturbance events
    • connectivity
    • sensitivity
    • metrics
    • cause-and-effect


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