Social-ecological resilience and geomorphic systems

Brian C. Chaffin, Murray Scown

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Governance of coupled social-ecological systems (SESs) and the underlying geomorphic processes that structure and alter Earth's surface is a key challenge for global sustainability amid the increasing uncertainty and change that defines the Anthropocene. Social-ecological resilience as a concept of scientific inquiry has contributed to new understandings of the dynamics of change in SESs, increasing our ability to contextualize and implement governance in these systems. Often, however, the importance of geomorphic change and geomorphological knowledge is somewhat missing from processes employed to inform SES governance. In this contribution, we argue that geomorphology and social-ecological resilience research should be integrated to improve governance toward sustainability. We first provide definitions of engineering, ecological, community, and social-ecological resilience and then explore the use of these concepts within and alongside geomorphology in the literature. While ecological studies often consider geomorphology as an important factor influencing the resilience of ecosystems and geomorphological studies often consider the engineering resilience of geomorphic systems of interest, very few studies define and employ a social-ecological resilience framing and explicitly link the concept to geomorphic systems. We present five key concepts—scale, feedbacks, state or regime, thresholds and regime shifts, and humans as part of the system—which we believe can help explicitly link important aspects of social-ecological resilience inquiry and geomorphological inquiry in order to strengthen the impact of both lines of research. Finally, we discuss how these five concepts might be used to integrate social-ecological resilience and geomorphology to better understand change in, and inform governance of, SESs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-230
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Mar 15 2018


  • Geomorphology
  • Governance
  • Resilience
  • Social-ecological systems (SESs)
  • Sustainability


Dive into the research topics of 'Social-ecological resilience and geomorphic systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this