The landsystems concept was initially popularized in the reports of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization for the mapping of large, sparsely populated areas in Australia in the 1940s (e.g. Christian and Stewart, 1952). Following the pioneering work of Bourne (1931), Unstead (1933) and Veatch (1933), these surveys were stimulated by the desire to evaluate the agricultural potential of large expanses of land. They sought to classify land based upon a landsystems approach, which recognized a landsystem as an area with common terrain attributes, different to those of adjacent areas. The areal coverage of a landsystem was therefore dictated by the size of the terrain attributes and could range from tens to hundreds of kms2. A recurring pattern of topography, soils and vegetation was regarded as characterizing a landsystem. Theoretically, each landsystem should contain a predictable combination of surface features (landforms) and associated soils and vegetation types. During the preliminary stages of mapping, the topography and/or geomorphology is usually the most significant criterion employed in differentiating landsystems.
A landsystem is divided into smaller components called units (or facets) and elements (Lawrance, 1972). In early reports the land units were often depicted in three-dimensional sketches from which immediate impressions could be gained of relative relief and patterns and densities of land elements. Aerial photograph stereopairs were also used to exemplify typical units of the landsystem. The developmental history of landsystems mapping, as it pertains to terrain classification, is reviewed in more detail by Mabbutt (1968), Mitchell (1973), Ollier (1977), King (1987), and Cooke and Doornkamp (1990). Applications of the landsystems concept to assessments of glaciated terrain have been less of a quantitative mapping exercise for regional development purposes and more for landscape characterization, useful for reconstruction of palaeo-glaciation and predicting the presence of specific sediments. Moreover, because glaciated terrains are often blanketed with depositional features, glacial geomorphologists and geologists have emphasized the properties, structures and distributions of materials that lie beneath the surface in their landsystems models (Eyles, 1983a). This allows the landsystems approach to be employed as a holistic form of terrain evaluation, by not only linking the geomorphology and subsurface materials in a landscape, but genetically relating them through process-landform studies. Moreover, it provides a powerful tool for the reconstruction and interpretation of former glacial environments and ice dynamics.
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