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FP7: iTECC Investigating Tectonism Erosion Climate Couplings

Project: Funded ProjectResearch

1/01/13 → …

In the field of geo-hazards characterized by low probability - high consequence events, threats of catastrophic incidents are often focused in limited areas, but consequences can be global as growing densely populated areas in for example Asia increasingly form the motors behind the global economy. The disastrous effects of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the climatic impacts of the Asian monsoons, which dominate the economies of half of the global population, as illustrated by the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010 attest to this global environmental sensitivity. This proposal focuses on the interaction between climatic forces and topographic evolution in active mountain belts which represent an important sub-set of the processes causing increased risk. The iTECC ITN is not primarily focused on geo-hazard mitigation, but its outcomes will help governance circles to better understand the importance of processes involving the complex links and feedbacks between climate, topography and erosion.
Tectonics and climate are interdependent. The tectonic development of major orogenic belts, for example the Himalayas, is moderated by climatic factors through erosion. Topography and vegetation in mountain belts moderate
climate: particularly monsoon intensity and rainfall patterns. Exposure of fresh rock by tectonics and erosion plays a critical part in the feedback that controls global climate on geological timescales. Conversely, climate is influenced by tectonics: the formation of the orographic high of the Himalayas in southern Asia is thought to be the cause of the Indian Ocean monsoon system that affects climate around the Indian Ocean from East Africa to northern Australia and thus has a major impact on the global circulation of air and in particular atmospheric moisture. To understand the complex couplings between climate and tectonics we need to elucidate both the present interactions between tectonics, climate and erosion and to interrogate the geological record as to how these have operated
in the past. Such observational and analytical datasets provide the basis for new state-of-the-art numerical models,for modelling both climate and topography evolution. The models, when validated in the present, in turn help test scenarios of further tectonic development, and for scenarios of future atmospheric circulation. There is an urgent need for scientists with a broad interdisciplinary understanding of the methods and data employed across a broad range of Earth Systems Science processes, who can use their expert knowledge of a part of
the system to contribute to modelling the whole system. Acquisition of such interdisciplinary skills is vital for future Earth scientists. Classically, aspects of the complex coupling between climate and tectonics have been studied in isolation and scientists studying the involved disciplines tend to have very different career paths, resulting in limited interactions of the sort needed to tackle increasingly important environmental challenges. As such, the iTECC network pursues the following main aim:
To integrate Earth Science disciplines by training a cohort of early stage and experienced Earth Scientists with relevant interdisciplinary expertise, providing them with the comprehensive set of mathematical, field observational and analytical skills needed to tackle the urgent problems posed in understanding the complex Earth Systems processes that moderate the environment.
To achieve this objective, iTECC will bring together a new team of leading experts in each of these disciplines and jointly develop multi-disciplinary expertise and knowledge around three principal research foci:
1. the understanding of how tectonic processes deform the Earth’s crust and change topography;
2. the elucidation of how atmospheric circulation and rainfall patterns evolve as the result of topographic developments and the consequent impacts on global circulation and climate;
3. the understanding of how tectonics and climate interact to moderate mass fluxes in orogenic belts, causing both topography and its destruction and posing hazards to society by flooding, debris flows, and landslides.