Erosion Through Time: Causes and Consequences
Erosion has shaped landscapes throughout the earth’s history; since a few millennia, human activities have been identified to be a major cause. Soil erosion is a rather silent and often underrated problem of global relevance. In addition to its central function within ecosystems and the water-, carbon-, nitrogen cycle, soil is the basis for food production. Past societies and their excessive land use, like the Mayas in Central America, exemplify impressive and complex human-environment interactions. Soil loss is almost irreversible, because the transformation of rock to soil is magnitudes slower than measureable soil erosion. Furthermore, most soils worldwide contain products of earlier phases of erosion and do not solely consist of in situ weathered rock. Within applied erosion research, this factor is inadequately accounted for and unrealistically high soil neoformation rates are assumed. The cluster “Erosion Through Time: Causes and Consequences” unites scientists from the units Paleo-Geoecology, Soil Science, Remote Sensing and Sustainable Land Management and aims to combine fundamental research on soil formation with applied research on soil erosion. The understanding of past climate and land use changes plays a central role within this integrated framework.
The aim of the cluster is to develop an integrated model to effectively describe mutual relationships of past and present soil genesis and erosion. Experience from applied erosion research, including socioeconomic consequences, is combined with fundamental research on past erosion and soil genesis, with varying influence of natural processes and human influences. Within this complex framework, we want to gain a better understanding about the following aspects:
- The modern soil-landscape geosystem and the influence of land management and climate change
- The role of past erosional processes on current soil properties
- Contemporary measured erosion rates compared to estimates from (pre)historic archives of erosion (colluvia, lake sediments)
- Natural vs. anthropogenic causes of erosion (archives with/without human influence)
- The consequences of current and past erosion for natural systems and societies
Soil formation, erosion and accumulation are cyclical processes related to environmental conditions, and have been strongly influenced by humans since millennia. The cluster “Erosion Through Time” focuses on three phases from the Last Glacial Maximum until today.
- I - From the Late Pleistocene to the Early Holocene, characterized by profound climate and landscape changes
- II- From the onset of agriculture to the early modern period, characterized predominantly by human induced erosion
- III - Modern soil erosion with the possibility to work with direct observations, measurements and mitigation strategies
Soil erosion is a topic of global relevance. While the “Erosion Through Time” cluster is not restricted to a specific study area, there are two main regions of interest.
- Central Europe, especially Switzerland. The region is studied intensively, with a relatively high local awareness of present soil erosion. It is home to the Geographical Institute and its group of researchers. The integration of fundamental research on soil genesis and applied research on soil erosion and socio-economic consequences are just beginning.
- In the tropics, quaternary landscape development and pedogenesis, as well as past human influences on erosion and present day soil distribution are still poorly understood. There is the need to increase general awareness about soil erosion and its associated challenges. Furthermore, the integration of fundamental and applied research can still be improved upon.
The “Erosion Through Time” cluster has a chronological structure, with methods adapted to the respective modules
- +41 31 631 85 78
- Name / Titel
- Prof. Dr. Heinz Veit
- Vice-Director / Unit Leader Paleo-Geoecology
- +41 31 631 85 61
- Name / Titel
- Prof. Dr. Chinwe Ifejika Speranza
- Professor of Geography and Sustainable Development
- +41 31 631 38 60
- Name / Titel
- Prof. Dr. Martin Grosjean
- Group Leader Paleolimnology
- +41 31 631 50 96
- Name / Titel
- PD Dr. Stefan Wunderle
- Unit Leader Remote Sensing / Lecturer / Coordinator of Erasmus
- +41 31 631 85 53
You can find several courses related to the cluster and its respective units within the CTS (core teaching system). The following courses are particularly relevant:
- Paleosols, sediments and Paleolimnology (Veit, Grosjean) - every HS
- Paleo II - every FS
- Ecology of Tropical and Subtropical Areas (Veit) - every HS
- Challenges in Geography II (e.g. Veit, Grosjean) - every FS
- Colloquium in paleo-geoecology (Veit, Sprafke) - every semester
- Sustainable Land Management and Land Systems (e.g. Ifejika, Messerli, Liniger)
Only HS 2017:
- Archaeological, geomorphological and soil-scientific aspects of a late glacial settlement in the Swiss Midlands (Moosbühl, Magdalenien). (Nielsen-Bigler, Veit, Hafner)
Running master theses
- Manuel Schläpfer: Bodenentstehung, -nutzung und –erhaltung in der Region Frienisberg (BE). Supervisors: Sprafke, Lemann
Topics for master theses
- Soil genesis and -erosion in South Cameroon
- Soil erosion in South Nigeria
Topics for bachelor theses
- Soil genesis and distribution in the Region Frienisberg (BE).
- Loess distribution in Switzerland - literature and reality.