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Space and Time Scales in Human-Landscape Systems

Abstract

Exploring spatial and temporal scales provides a way to understand human alteration of landscape processes and human responses to these processes. We address three topics relevant to human-landscape systems: (1) scales of human impacts on geomorphic processes, (2) spatial and temporal scales in river restoration, and (3) time scales of natural disasters and behavioral and institutional responses. Studies showing dramatic recent change in sediment yields from uplands to the ocean via rivers illustrate the increasingly vast spatial extent and quick rate of human landscape change in the last two millennia, but especially in the second half of the twentieth century. Recent river restoration efforts are typically small in spatial and temporal scale compared to the historical human changes to ecosystem processes, but the cumulative effectiveness of multiple small restoration projects in achieving large ecosystem goals has yet to be demonstrated. The mismatch between infrequent natural disasters and individual risk perception, media coverage, and institutional response to natural disasters results in un-preparedness and unsustainable land use and building practices.

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Acknowledgments

Our thinking on these topics of scale was stimulated by our participation in the workshop “Landscapes in the ‘Anthropocene’: Exploring the Human Connections” held at the University of Oregon, Eugene, in March 2010, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Jen Natali prepared Figs. 2 and 3.

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Correspondence to G. Mathias Kondolf.

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Kondolf, G.M., Podolak, K. Space and Time Scales in Human-Landscape Systems. Environmental Management 53, 76–87 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-013-0078-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-013-0078-9

Keywords

  • Anthropocene
  • Spatial scale
  • Time scale
  • Human landscape