Understanding land and river degradation in urban areas


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This MCN research project focuses on the effects of humans and urbanisation on Earth’s river systems.

This MCN research project focuses on the effects of humans and urbanisation on Earth’s river systems.

This project focuses on answering the following questions:

  1. What are the spatiotemporal dynamics of soil erosion in relation to land use?
  2. Where does sediment come from in urban areas?
  3. How much sediment is generated?

The details

Human activity and changes in land use are major drivers of soil erosion. Soil erosion has negative effects on:

  • land productivity
  • nutrient and carbon cycling
  • water resource quality
  • aquatic ecosystem quality
  • human infrastructure.

The goal of this project is to understand the dynamics of soil erosion on hillslopes and areas of suspended sediment in urban and peri-urban areas. Peri-urban areas are transition zones between fully urban and fully rural areas. This project will also focus on soil erosion and sediment transfers in rivers. Soil erosion on hillslopes and its transfer through river systems are serious problems on a local and global scale.

Current methods for monitoring sediment transfer are costly and time-intensive. This limits our understanding of how erosion and sediment transfer change over time and space, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas. To develop new monitoring methods with finer spatial and temporal resolution, a new approach is needed.

Open source and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will be used to answer the main questions of the project and to better understand the relationship between land use and soil erosion. Low-cost sensor networks will be designed to measure the water level, turbidity and colour of water systems. Information obtained from comparative analyses of river catchments overseen by research centres in Melbourne and Lyon will help us develop these sensors. They will be installed in headwater streams to measure the amount of sediment and determine its source.

The project is an international collaboration between the University of Melbourne, the University of Lyon, and the Waterway Ecosystem Research Group.

Supervision team

The University of Melbourne: Professor Tim Fletcher and Dr Kathryn Russell
CNRS and the University of Lyon: Professor Etienne Cossart and Associate Professor Frederic Cherqui

First published on 24 March 2022.

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