Uncertainty in geomorphological responses to climate change

Stephan Harrison*, Tim Mighall, David A. Stainforth, Philip Allen, Mark Macklin, Edward Anderson, Jasper Knight, Dmitri Mauquoy, David Passmore, Brice Rea, Matteo Spagnolo, Sarah Shannon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
87 Downloads (Pure)


Successful adaptation to climate change at regional scales can often depend on understanding the nature of geomorphological responses to climate change at those scales. Here we use evidence from landscapes which are known to be environmentally sensitive to show that geomorphological change in response to shifts in climate can be highly nonlinear. Our study sites are two mountain massifs on the western coast of Ireland. Both sites have similar geological and Pleistocene glacial histories and are similar topographically, geomorphologically and in their climate histories. We show that despite these similarities their response to late Holocene, climate change has differed. Both massifs have responded to short-term climate changes over the last 4500 years that are considered to have been uniform across the region, but these climate changes have resulted in highly differentiated and nonlinear landscape responses. We argue this reflects nonlinearity in the forcing–response processes at such scales and suggests that current approaches to modelling the response of such systems to future climate change using numerical climate models may not accurately capture the landscape response. We end by discussing some of the implications for obtaining decision-relevant predictions of landscape responses to climatic forcing and for climate change adaptation and planning, using regional climate models.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClimatic Change
Early online date24 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Aug 2019


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