Erosion, flooding and channel management in Mediterranean environments of southern Europe

J. Poesen, J. Hooke

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Soil erosion by water is one of the most important land degradation processes in Mediterranean environments. This process is strongly linked to problems of flooding and channel management. This article reviews existing knowledge on these topics and defines research gaps. In the framework of environmental change studies it is important to consider soil erosion at various spatial and temporal scales. Most field measurements and modelling efforts have hitherto concentrated on water erosion processes operating at the runoff plot scale. Soil erosion processes operating at other spatial scales have received much less attention in the literature. Yet, there are indications that gully and channel erosion are probably the dominant sediment sources in a variety of Mediterranean environments. Beside water erosion, other erosion processes operating within catchments, such as tillage erosion, land reshaping for land preparation (e.g., terracing) or soil quarrying can have significant impacts on soil profile truncation. Land use changes strongly affect the intensity of these processes. The conditions, position and connectivity of the runoff and sediment generating areas within catchments have a profound effect on flood characteristics within the main channels but the dynamics are not well understood. Some research has taken place into meteorological conditions producing catastrophic flooding and into development of hydrological models using catchment variables. Much less is known of the properties and effects of flood waves within channels, partly because of lack of records of these infrequent events. It is not only water but also sediment which causes destruction in floods, yet sediment is frequently ignored in channel management. The extreme conditions associated with floods in the region, the variability of flows and of flood zones, the mobility of the channels and the high sediment loads create particular challenges for channel management. Trends in land use and channel management are tending to exacerbate these problems. From this review it can be concluded that there is still an important need for process-based understanding and modelling of key soil erosion processes operating at a range of scales: i.e., from plots over hillslopes, catchments to regions. In particular, more research is needed on the linkages between upland areas which produce large volumes of runoff and sediment and channels on the other hand. Such linkages are through gullies and sedimentation zones. Monitoring and experi mental data on key soil erosion and channel processes operating within Mediterranean landscapes are crucial for the improvement of soil erosion and channel models for a range of scales. In particular, long-term monitoring of soil erosion processes and stream channel changes seems to be essential to observe the effects of infrequent torrential rain events on severe erosion, flooding and stream channel changes as well as on the transient response of Mediterranean landscapes to changes in land use and climate. Systematic collation of historical evidence of changes would be valuable. Implications of land and water use need to be examined in detail. A wide range of alternative strategies and techniques of channel and basin management must be explored and modelled. A holistic approach to management of the fluvial system is recommended.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)157-199
    Number of pages43
    JournalProgress in Physical Geography
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1997


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