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Quantitative analysis and modeling of the effect of human-induced land use/-cover change on the rate and spatial pattern of desertification in the Mediterranean using novel geochemical techniques


Human-induced land use/-cover changes are causing adverse effects on the life quality of the physical environment, thereby affecting prospects for future development. Although the long-standing interest in the interaction between land use/-cover change and geomorphic processes, our present-day understanding is far from complete. At present, models do not yet allow quantifying the impact of land use/-cover change, as they are calibrated for single erosion processes using short-term erosion data, representing a combined signal of both natural and human-induced erosion. The use of novel geochemical techniques, specifically in-situ produced cosmogenic nuclides (ICN), is seen as offering a means of overcoming some of these problems. The technique was first applie d in erosion studies ten years ago, and has proven to be remarkably accurate to provide long-term erosion rates. The aim of this project is to quantify the effect of land use/-cover change on the pattern of geomorphic processes using ICN. First, it aims to clarify the effect of the environmental setting of the area where sediment is eroded on the cosmogenic isotope content of river deposits. Once the basic principles are clarified, the technique will be applied to a selected number of catchments within the Mediterranean to quantify the impact of land use/-cover change on desertification. These data will then be used to calibrate desertification models. This project will contribute to strengthen the scientific understanding of processes controlling desertific ation, and is thereby directly relevant to ‘Mechanisms of desertification and natural disasters’ and particularly to ‘Assessment of the vulnerability to desertification’ within 6th Environment Action Program. The quantitative data on anthropogenic acceleration of desertification will improve calibration of current erosion models. This is not only of scientific importance; but is also of primary importance for the improvement of erosion mitigation strategies.

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