Saturday, February 20, 2010

Regenerative Alluvial Landscapes

"Annual spending in the U.S. for mitigation of erosion and sedimentation is estimated at $13 billion.  The erosion control industry consists of a broad range of diverse professions and specialties, including hydroseeders, mat and blanket manufacturers, consulting engineers, landscapers and even earth moving contractors. All stake claims to separate or interrelated segments of this market. This army of professionals have two objectives in mind; the prevention of soil erosion, and the trapping of sediment before it enters the waterways."  - Honningford Laurie About ECTC Erosion Control Technology Council

Soil Erosion is a major concern for development patterns.  It effects agriculture, infrastructure, buildings, and hydrology.  It is a force which is sought to be resisted, controlled, and comprehended for the sole purpose of prevention.  Though when considered carefully it is evident that we are able to wage a battle of attrition only.  Erosional processes are a function of physical laws that science has determined as absolute:  Newton's 2nd Law of Thermodynamics;  the constancy of gravitational force; the molecular forces which define friction of macro objects.  It is only possible to retain for a time fitting to the scale of human life that we can measure success, and even that is a hard fought victory.

Re-conceptualizing the understanding and definition of erosion from a non-anthropomorphic position could allow us to view it as productive process.  It is only in reference to our own human interventions by which this natural process is seen in a negative light.  It is even fair to say that it is often due to our own interventions that it comes to be a problem.  The desire to lay a bridge, and the subsequent scouring of the supports is a result of hydrologic forces reacting to engineered intervention.  Agricultural soil erosion is often the result of poor tilling processes and overuse of soil, as was the case in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the contemporary crisis in the Pahlouse landscape of Eastern Washington state.       Considered from this stance it is possible to see that it is our resistance to this natural process which creates the conflict.  Could it be possible to construe a means of acting in partnership with this process to engage and benefit from its complexity?

Examples can be found in which the process and production of erosion becomes a generators of landscapes.  A productive effect of erosion is the sorting of soil by grain size and type due to gully erosion and the alluvial fans which result.  Resulting from a hydrologic process taking place across a topologically complex but surficially small areas the expansive scale of the alluvial fan is a landscape which would be unimaginable to construct artificially.  The resulting surface pattern of organized soil and the dendritic pattern of hydrology which creates and sustains it can be utilized to define human habitation and land use.  This effect can be seen in the satellite image of agricultural plots and their responsive spatialization on an alluvial fan in Iran.

Since the erosional process is one which occurs at many geological scales; from a small stream into a field to the outflow of major rivers into the ocean; it is possible to imagine productive effects beyond the large scale agricultural ordering described in the example above.  The smoothed ground plane which characterizes the alluvial landscape could be utilized to reconstruct and repair industrial interventions of the land which have left sites unusable due to challenging topography.

An instance of this type of site is the quarry, which is ubiquitous to human culture, but has become a challenged landscape due to industrialization and the capabilities of mechanized earth work.  Could we insturmentalize erosion to deal with The Biggest of the Big open-pit copper mines?  These landscapes of constant alteration which have grown beyond our ability to "repair" them?