“The Earth is Soft”

In a new review article with Doug Jerolmack (U. Pennsylvania, Department Earth & Environmental Science), we explore the idea that soft-matter physics and geomorphology (the “science of scenery”) are long-lost relatives. Our paper in Nature Reviews Physics outlines some promising avenues for reunification and collaboration between these fields, including:

  • How earth and planetary landscapes are created by the erosion and deposition of particulate material.
  • Soil, rocks and ice relax over geologic timescales, but may also fluidize under shear or lubrication; thus, glassy dynamics, rigidity transitions and rheology are central concepts.
  • Progress in soft-matter physics can be extended to improve the understanding of geophysical flows that shape landscapes.
  • Landscapes present a wider range of material heterogeneity, system geometry and excitations than have been examined in physics experiments, presenting new challenges and opportunities.