Enlightenment and the GM floodplain

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In the last 400 years floodplains in England and Wales have changed drastically. This has been steered by changes brought about through diverse human activities including river regulation for transport, water abstraction and power generation; mining, industrial and urban pollution; the spread of buildings and transport link construction; land drainage; minimization of flood risk through engineering; floodplain gravel extraction; and environment redesign for recreation and conservation.

Adding to the evolving complexity of floodplains, a sequence of post-Enlightenment impacts from the earliest of industrial societies provides an interesting precursor for other transforming global systems. Historical and sedimentological evidence for this history is available, despite limited quantitative monitoring data. A four-phase floodplain transformation model is presented for the period.

Novel patterns of erosion and sedimentation (in location and quality) have emerged as geomorphological processes have continued in ‘genetically-modified’ form. Problems building up for the future are likely to rest particularly with more extreme events. Understanding the last four centuries of floodplain history can aid enlightened remedies and adaptations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-29
Number of pages13
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number1
Early online date30 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


  • floodplains
  • flood risk management
  • regulated rivers
  • pollution
  • fluvial sedimentation


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