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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2009

13 - Geomorphology's contribution to the understanding and resolution of environmental problems of the Great Barrier Reef



In Chapter 1 geomorphology was presented as a spatial science with a unique temporal scale which lies between ecological and geological studies. This book has adopted a spatial scale related to a cross-shelf gradient with the two main driving forces behind the present geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) being sea-level change which approaches a geological timescale and oceanography which is essential for understanding at an ecological scale. Geomorphological processes can be derived either from analysis of the evolution of landforms, largely the focus of this book and summarized in Chapter 11, or from measurement and monitoring of processes operating at the present time. Unfortunately, such monitoring, for example of sedimentation rates, has had only a short history on the GBR and on reefs worldwide in comparison to the measurement of terrestrial, coastal, and fluvial processes. Reefs respond rapidly to environmental change and the measurement of present geomorphological processes may incorporate much variability for which the longer record from dated sedimentary sequences can provide a benchmark. This is particularly important at a time when anthropogenic impact on the Reef is being widely reported (e.g., Bellwood et al., 2004; Fabricius, 2004).

If geomorphological studies of the development of the GBR over the last 10 ka, and especially over the last 6.5 ka since sea level stabilized, can provide this benchmark against which changes can be measured, then they have a vital role in contributing to the management process.