Denudation and geomorphic change in the Anthropocene; a global overview.

Antonio Cendrero, Juan Remondo, Achim A. Beylich, Piotr Cienciala, Luis M. Forte, Valentin N. Golosov, Artyom V. Gusarov, Małgorzata Kijowska-Strugała, Katja Laute, Dongfeng Li, Ana Navas, Mauro Soldati, Francesca Vergari, Zbigniew Zwoliński, John C. Dixon, Jasper Knight, Estela Nadal-Romero, Eliza Płaczkowska

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The effects of human activity on geomorphic processes, particularly those related to denudation/sedimentation, are investigated by reviewing case studies and global assessments covering the past few centuries. Evidence we have assembled from different parts of the world, as well as from the literature, show that certain geomorphic processes are experiencing an acceleration, especially since the mid-twentieth century. This suggests that a global geomorphic change is taking place, largely caused by anthropogenic landscape changes. Direct human-driven denudation (through activities involving excavation, transport, and accumulation of geological materials) has increased by a factor of 30 between 1950 and 2015, representing a ten-fold increase of per capita effect. Direct plus indirectly human-induced denudation (triggered by land surface alteration) is presently at least one order of magnitude greater than denudation due to purely natural processes. The activity of slope movements, which represent an important contribution to denudation, sediment generation and landscape evolution, also shows a clear intensification. Frequency of hazardous events and disasters related to slope movements (an indirect measure of process frequency) in specific regions, as well as at continental and global levels, has grown considerably, in particular after the mid-twentieth century. Intense rainstorm events are often related to slope movement occurrence, but the general increasing trend observed is not satisfactorily explained by climate. Sedimentation has augmented considerably in most regions and all kinds of sedimentation environments. Although the link between denudation and sedimentation is not direct and unequivocal, it is safe to assume that if sedimentation rates increase in different regions during a given period, denudation must have increased too, even though their magnitudes could be different. This augmentation, particularly marked from the second half of the last century onwards, appears to be determined mainly by land surface changes, in conjunction with climate change. The changes observed suggest: a) there is evidence at a global scale of a growing response of geomorphic systems to socio-economic drivers, being Gross Domestic Product density, a good indicator of the human potential to cause such impacts; b) Land use/cover changes enhance effects of climate change on global denudation/sedimentation and landslide/flood frequency, and appear to be a stronger controlling factor; c) Our findings point to the existence of a global geomorphic change. This manifestation of global change is especially evident since the “great geomorphic acceleration” that began in the middle of the 20th century, and constitutes one of the characteristics of the proposed Anthropocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104186
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Geomorphic disasters
  • Global geomorphic change
  • Great geomorphic acceleration
  • Sediment flux
  • Sedimentation rates
  • Technological denudation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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