Do earthquakes and floods shape the long-term landscape of mountain ranges?

A new numerical model promises to challenge the current conception of landscape evolution, which is seen as an equilibrium structure on which earthquakes or floods have only temporary effects. Philippe Steer, lecturer at the University of Rennes 1 and researcher at the Rennes Geosciences Laboratory (OSUR), is developing this model. The teacher-researcher has just received support from the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant) to the tune of €1.5 million over five years. Applications are expected in the areas of population safety and the study of the impact of global warming.
Philippe Steer

A likely limitation of current models

One of the great challenges in Earth science today is to understand how tectonics, climate and surface processes act and interact to shape the landforms of mountain ranges. The foundations of modern quantitative geomorphology are based on the paradigm of steady-state landscapes that respond only to slow changes in climate or tectonics.

The implication of this assumption is that the short-term dynamics of landscapes, such as a flood or earthquake, have only temporary effects and the landscape eventually returns to its 'normal' state.
What if these extreme, short but frequent events actually had the capacity to modify the shape of landscapes in a lasting way?

A new digital model and promising applications for public safety

Philippe Steer's FEASIBLe project will develop a new numerical model of landscape evolution to understand how such extreme events build or destroy landscapes. It will produce and analyse new high-resolution topographic data revealing the nature of landscapes in Taiwan, New Zealand and the Himalayas.

This work is also likely to provide a new approach to estimating seismic risk, based on landscape shape analysis, and a means of assessing the role of global warming on the post-glacial evolution of today's glaciated regions. In the longer term, the results of the project could also be used to optimise road and communication networks in areas at risk.

The FEASIBLe project

The FEASIBLe project by Philippe Steer, lecturer at the University of Rennes 1, is being conducted at the Geosciences Rennes laboratory, a joint research unit (CNRS/University of Rennes 1) of the Observatoire des sciences de l'Univers de Rennes.

It is supported by the European Research Council (ERC) to the tune of 1.5 million euros over 5 years. This sum will enable the recruitment of two PhD students and three post-doctoral fellows to work on the project, and to finance field study missions (New Zealand, Taiwan, Himalayas - Bhutan).

Philippe Steer's ERC application is managed by the University of Rennes 1 and was supported by the Plateforme projets européens (2PE).

European Research Council grants (ERC grants)

The European Research Council funds scientific excellence at the frontier of knowledge. It is a "white science" programme dedicated to exploratory research, the sole selection criterion of which is scientific excellence.
The structuring of the European research system limits the ability of young researchers to create their teams around an original idea, which is one of the reasons for the "brain drain" from the old continent.

The objective of Starting Grant grants is to allow young scientists to build their research team around an original theme. They support scientific projects on ambitious and risky subjects.
These grants are awarded according to the year in which the thesis was obtained. Thus, the "Starting grant" that Philippe Steer received can be awarded 2 to 7 years after the thesis.