Geomorphometry in mountain terrain (Chapter 4 of “Geographic information science and mountain geomorphology”) Stefan Rasemann, Jochen Schmidt, Lothar

Schrott, and Richard Dikau Berlin, 2004 pp. 101-103 4.1 Introduction This chapter focuses on the geomorphometry of the mountains landforms and their forelands. Landform features considered here range for small landforms, such a circles and rock glaciers, to large or coarse-scale landform, such as mountain ranges. Although the extensive topic of drainage basin geomorphometry is one of the roots of modern geomorphometry, especially in the United States (e.g., Horton, 1945a; Strahler, 1950a,b), it will not be treated in this chapter unless it contains mountain-specific methods and parameters. We define geomorphometry as the science of quantitative description and analysis of the geometric-topologic characteristics of the landscape. Within the framework of process-form relationships fundamental to geomorphology, geomorphometry deals with the recognition and quantification of landforms. Landforms carry two geomorphological meanings. In relation to present formative processes, a landform acts as a boundary condition that can be dynamically changed by acting processes. On the other hand, formative events of the past are inferred from the appearance of a recent or paleolandform and the material (sediment, rock) it consists of. Therefore, the task of geomorphometry is twofold: (1) quantification of landforms to derive information about past forming processes, and (2) determination of parameters of recent processes. Gemorphometry is therefore a means for description and explanation. Despite much empirical research, there is no systematic and general textbook or statement about the specific character of mountain geomorphometry. Global digital elevation data, however, now permit the analysis of larger mountains areas and regions. It is necessary to discuss these topics not only in terms of conceptualizing landforms, but also in relation to the analytical capabilities of software tools. As discussed in chapter 3, the definition of mountains and mountain areas is difficult and has been approached several times since the end of the 19 th century (e.g., Barsch and Caine, 1984). In early works, Ritter (1852) pointed out the vague meaning of the term “mountain”, which relates to the basic problems of semantics of landforms , based on the specific context (cf. Dehn et al., 2001; 2001; Smith and Mark, 2003). Obst (1914) reviewed early mountain definition and the associated difficulties. The first quantitative definition of “mountain” was that of Sonklar (1873). He included the distinction between hill and mountain based on the relief, where the limit of relief from the valley floor to the summit, which defines a mountain, its drawn at 200m. No distinction was made, however, between a single mountain rising from a flat lowland or upland and a more or less pronounced summit incorporated in a high-mountain system of large extent. In his book of the morphology of the earth, Penck (1984) defined “mountain” according to the definition of Sonklar (1873): summit and mountain are used as synonyms, 1

but a rigorous definitions of the term is not given. Two years later, however, Penck (1896) defined a mountain as “an area declining in all directions from a given location.” Furthermore, he described mountains as one of the basics landforms of the earth surface. As a consequence, a mountain system is interpreted as a higher-order landform or, in other words, as an aggregations of a number of individual landforms. This definition was criticized by Obst (1914) and Supan (1911). The latter pointed out that single rises of terrain were called mountains, whereas rises or larger areal extent were considered mountain systems. In this context, Supan (1911) argued that it made no sense to separate single mountains and mountains systems by rigorous definition. A distinct rise of terrain inside a mountain system should be referred to as a summit, not as a mountain. Despite the differences in defining mountains systems, Penck (1896), Supan (1911) and Obst (1914) agreed between the distinction between hills, mountains and mountain systems according to areal extent or height is not a suitable classification. In a classical American geography textbook (Finch and Trewartha, 1949), the term “high-mountain” is not used. The authors distinguished between low, rough, rugged, and sierran mountains. Barsch and Caine (1984) pointed out that the term “mountain” may be adapted in terms of the question under investigation. The provide some characteristics of the mountain terrain that are crucial for mountain landforms or processes, including: (1) elevation about sea level; steep or even precipitous slope angles; (3) rocky terrain; and (4) presence of snow and ice (Barsch and Caine, 1984; Ives et al., 1997; Beniston, 2000). Relief, the difference between the lowest ant the highest point in the given area is use for a semiquantitative differentiation of high-relief areas by Barsch and Caine (1984), which is illustrated in table 4.1. Other authors incorporated additional characteristics to define mountains that reflect the specific topographic and topoclimatic condition of mountain areas. A definition of high mountains was given by Troll (1941, 1955, 1975) in several publications. He suggested a characterization of high-mountains systems, based on three landscape ecological criteria: 1. The occurrence of an upper treeline as an indicator of contemporary climatic and vegetational conditions. 2. Altitudinal belts and weights rising above the glacier equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of the Quaternary and showing typical glacial landforms from the Quaternary glaciations (e.g. cirques, oversteepened rock walls, etc.) 3. The occurrence of the contemporary subnival altitudinal belt with active periglacial processes. Various authors have referred to the range of elevation between summits and valley floor, usually exceeding 1000m, to characterized high-mountains areas with commonly more than 2000m of relief occurring within only a few kilometers of horizontal distance (Penck, 1894; Hammond, 1964a). High-mountain areas are characterized by a steep topography dominated by rock walls with a slope angle of more than 60° and steep slopes between 35° and 60° (Barsch and Caine, 1984). A quantitative distinction between “high-mountain systems” and “mountain systems” remains difficult. The latter, with only a few slopes steeper than 35° and a local relief of less than 1000m, permits a geomorphographic 2

distinction (Barsch and Caine, 1984). A semiquantitative division of a high-mountain system into mountain groups was provided by Hormann (1965). The criterion to separate the two groups is based on a difference in elevation of at least 2000m between a mountain pass and the adjacent summit. In this way, Hormann (1965) subdivided the European Alps into 12 mountain groups. Unfortunately, a purely geomorphometric definition of high-mountain system is not sufficient to characterize the complex nature of multiple landform assemblages. This landform hierarchies are scale-dependent, and additional research is needed to conceptualize and formalize scale issues. Table 4.1 Definition of high-relief areas.
Type High mountain system Mountain system Mountainous terrain Hilly terrain Relief (over 5km distance) >1 000m 500-1 000m 100-500m 50-100m Relative relief 500m/km2 200 m/km2 100 m/km2 50 m/km2

From Barsch and Caine (1984)


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