Defining the moment of erosion: the principle of Thermal Consonance Timing

Damian Lawler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)


Geomorphological process research demands quantitative information on erosion and deposition event timing and magnitude, in relation to fluctuations in the suspected driving forces. This paper establishes a new measurement principle - thermal consonance timing (TCT) - which delivers clearer, more continuous and quantitative information on erosion and deposition event magnitude, timing and frequency, to assist understanding of the controlling mechanisms. TCT is based on monitoring the switch from characteristically strong temperature gradients in sediment, to weaker gradients in air or water, which reveals the moment of erosion. The paper (1) derives the TCT principle from soil micrometeorological theory; (2) illustrates initial concept operationalization for field and laboratory use; (3) presents experimental data for simple soil erosion simulations; and (4) discusses initial application of TCT and perifluvial micrometeorology principles in the delivery of timing solutions for two bank erosion events on the River Wharfe, UK, in relation to the hydrograph. River bank thermal regimes respond, as soil temperature and energy balance theory predicts, with strong horizontal thermal gradients (often > 1 K cm(-1) over 6(.)8 cm). TCT fixed the timing of two erosion events, the first during inundation, the second 19 h after the discharge peak and 13 h after re-emergence from the flow. This provides rare confirmation of delayed bank retreat, quantifies the time-lag involved, and suggests mass failure processes rather than fluid entrainment. Erosion events can be virtually instantaneous, implying 'catastrophic retreat' rather than 'progressive entrainment'. Considerable potential exists to employ TCT approaches for: validating process models in several geomorphological contexts; assisting process identification and improving discrimination of competing hypotheses of process dominance through high-resolution, simultaneous analysis of erosion and deposition events and driving forces; defining shifting erodibility and erosion thresholds; refining dynamic linkages in event-based sediment budget investigations; and deriving closer approximations to 'true' erosion and deposition rates, especially in self-concealing scour-and-fill systems. Copyright (c) 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1597-1615
Number of pages19
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2005


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