Baylor University
Department of Geology
College of Arts and Sciences




Geology News Items

O.T. Hayward Lecture Series

Jan. 19, 2012

Is there a topographic signature of life?

Landscapes are shaped by the uplift, deformation and breakdown of bedrock and the erosion, transport and deposition of sediment. Life is important in all of these processes. Over short timescales, the impact of life is quite apparent: rock weathering, soil formation and erosion, slope stability and river dynamics are directly influenced by biotic processes that mediate chemical reactions, dilate soil, disrupt the ground surface and add strength with a weave of roots. Over geologic time, biotic effects are less obvious but equally important: biota affect climate, and climatic conditions dictate the mechanisms and rates of erosion that control topographic evolution. Apart from the obvious influence of humans, does the resulting landscape bear an unmistakable stamp of life? The influence of life on topography is a topic that has remained largely unexplored, yet all landscapes we walk on today have developed in the presence of biota. In this presentation I will explore mechanisms linking biota to erosional processes and explore several hypotheses about an Earth without life as a way to reveal the role biota may play in shaping landscapes.