As an observational science, geomorphology has a rich history. By the first century BC, Roman Engineer Vitruvius first described the hydrologic cycle where water falling on the ground eventually resurfaced in lowland areas. Years later, Geographia was written by Ptolemy, and described the 2nd century Roman Empire. Chinese scientist Shen Kuo first began building conceptual models of soil erosion and sea level change almost 1,000 years ago and Leonardo da Vinci made geological and geomorphological observations as well as several cartographic drawings during his lifetime in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The Russian geographer Mikhail Lomonosov founded the study of glaciology in the 18th century, and 20th century greats like Luna Leopold and Arthur Strahler began to explore the landscape using systematic quantitative methods.
For hydrology in particular, quantitative methods began to reveal underlying rules and governing laws about the flow of water above and below ground, and
these laws are routinely used in engineering design today. Much of the remainder of geomorphology, however, remained a largely descriptive, qualitative science with limited means to bring together the observations of individual scientists in a meaningful way.
Understanding of geohazards, for example, has been limited by a dearth of data and limits in science’s ability to measure meaningful changes in the earth at an appropriate scale and with appropriate accuracy. The accelerated pace of technology in the last two decades has dramatically changed the scientific landscape, and as a consequence, changed both our understanding and our capacity to understand the physical one.
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