Theories of scaling apply wherever similarity exists across many scales. This similarity may be found in geometry and in dynamical processes. Universality arises when the qualitative character of a system is sufficient to quantitatively predict its essential features, such as the exponents that characterize scaling laws. Within geomorphology, two areas where the concepts of scaling and universality have found application are the geometry of river networks and the statistical structure of topography. We begin this review with a pedagogical presentation of scaling and universality. We then describe recent progress made in applying these ideas to networks and topography. This overview leads to a synthesis that attempts a classification of surface and network properties based on generic mechanisms and geometric constraints. We also briefly review how scaling and universality have been applied to related problems in sedimentology—specifically, the origin of stromatolites and the relation of the statistical properties of submarine-canyon topography to the size distribution of turbidite deposits. Throughout the review, our intention is to elucidate not only the problems that can be solved using these concepts, but also those that cannot.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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