PhD Thesis

PhD thesis abstract

Within the context of increasing demographic pressures and hazards related to climate change, the problems posed by landscape erosion have become particularly crucial. The current management of Mediterranean mountain environments, which are highly exposed to erosion hazards, needs to be supported by a thorough understanding of their susceptibility to these hazards and their long-term trajectories.

A retrospective analysis of environmental trajectories has been conducted from the study of three lacustrine sedimentary archives in the Southern Alps (Lakes Petit, Vens and Allos). This multi-disciplinary study, based on sedimentology, geochemistry and palynology, has enabled characterization of the dynamics of erosion and changes in plant cover over the last 14,000 years.

In Lakes Allos and Vens, the start of the Holocene is marked by the maturing of ecosystems, by chemical weathering of soils and by forest encroachment at higher altitudes. These environmental changes resulted in progressive ecosystem stabilization, followed by a bio-pedological optimum, and subsequently by more open landscapes, and then soil destabilization. These four successive phases have ben dated, respectively, at 12,000-8000 cal. BP, 8000-6000 cal. BP, 6000-1900 cal. BP, and 1900 cal. BP to Present. The last of these phases occurred earlier, at 4200 cal. BP, in Lake Petit. The triggering of soil erosion has systematically been hinged on periods of heavy precipitation affecting landscapes rendered vulnerable, by human societies, to the effects of such perturbations.

Keywords : mountain environment, soil erosion, vegetation dynamics, mining pollution, pastoral activities, lake sediments, Holocene