An introduction to learning algorithms and potential applications in geomorphometry and Earth surface dynamics
- 1Department of Earth Sciences, Universiteit Utrecht, Postbus 80.021, 3508TA Utrecht, the Netherlands
- 2Department of Earth Sciences, Science Labs, Durham University, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK
Abstract. “Learning algorithms” are a class of computational tool designed to infer information from a data set, and then apply that information predictively. They are particularly well suited to complex pattern recognition, or to situations where a mathematical relationship needs to be modelled but where the underlying processes are not well understood, are too expensive to compute, or where signals are over-printed by other effects. If a representative set of examples of the relationship can be constructed, a learning algorithm can assimilate its behaviour, and may then serve as an efficient, approximate computational implementation thereof. A wide range of applications in geomorphometry and Earth surface dynamics may be envisaged, ranging from classification of landforms through to prediction of erosion characteristics given input forces. Here, we provide a practical overview of the various approaches that lie within this general framework, review existing uses in geomorphology and related applications, and discuss some of the factors that determine whether a learning algorithm approach is suited to any given problem.