Processes, spatio-temporal factors and measurements of current erosion in the French Southern Alps : a review

Abstract : Present erosion in mountainous areas of Western Europe causes land management problems, particularly for areas located downstream of erosion zones. Except for transalpine roads and ski resorts, economic activities no longer require as much space as they did in the past. Therefore, natural reforestation has provided significant protection for alpine hillslopes during the 20th century. However, extreme ftoods continue to cause severe damage in intra-alpine valleys, as well as in piedmont and surrounding plains, making the study of present water erosion phenomena very important. Many studies have investigated the processes and factors of water erosion on slopes at both the catchment and plot scales. They have focused on rock fragmentation and transportation in different fields, the spatial and temporal explanatory variables , the consequences downstream (ftooding, sedimentation, river bed evolution) and the impact of ftoods. ln the French Alps, present erosion has been studied in a variety of outcrops, with several recent studies conducted in fields such as marls, clayey deposits, molasses and moraines. These kinds of outcrops are found throughout the alpine massif, including an area of special interest on the great Jurassic black marI outcrop where badlands are frequently observable. Geomorphologists and hydrologists have been particularly interested in the strong erosion processes in marIs, seeking to determine the main patterns and the impact of spatial and temporal factors on soil loss quantities. The main climatic factors of rock disaggregation were found to be the freeze-thaw and wet-dry cycles, which destroy rock cohesion, and the splash effect of rain. The principal site variables are vegetation cover, exposure and dip-slope angle. Erosion rates are two or three orders of magnitude higher on bare soils than on pastures; northern aspect slopes suffer two to four times as much soilloss as southern aspect slopes. Finally, the angle forrned by the slope and the dip also deterrnines different behaviours: erosion rates are higher when slope and dip are perpendicular than when they are parallel. The transportation agents are mostly debris ftows and runoff caused by intense precipitation. Annual erosion depth in the marls is generally assumed to be substantial, up to 10 mm. The high value can be explained by the severity of the climatic conditions and the brittleness of the lithology, which results in numerous fractures.
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Luc Descroix, Nicolle Mathys. Processes, spatio-temporal factors and measurements of current erosion in the French Southern Alps : a review. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Wiley, 2003, 28, pp.993 - 1011. ⟨ird-02153603⟩

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