Cascade hydrogeomorphic hazards and risks : complex processes under the survey of an Italian-Swiss collaboration

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Virginia Ruiz-Villanueva, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics

The Seminar Cascading hydrogeomorphic processes and compound hazards in mountain catchments under environmental change took place at the University of Padova from September 13 to 16, 2022. This event, organized in the framework of the privileged partnership between UNIL and the University of Padova, had several objectives:

  • identify gaps in current knowledge concerning cascading hydrogeomorphological processes in watersheds ;
  • generate disciplinary synergies and new approaches in this field, particularly in relation to climate change. 

Several members of the FGSE participated in this seminar organized by Virginia Ruiz-Villanueva (assistant professeur at UNIL) and Filippo Catani (professor at the University of Padova).

Cascading risks in mountain catchments : a complex subject at the heart of current events

Hydrogeomorphological hazards are complex processes that often cascade: they interact with each other in a kind of chain effect that can lead to significant damage. For example, a simple landslide can block the flow of a river, creating a lake that can overflow and flood an entire region. The study of such processes is currently often fragmented between different disciplines (geomorphology, geology, hydrology), which leads to a lack of understanding of these interdependent phenomena.

Furthermore, watershed-related hazards have a significant social and economic impact and are likely to be exacerbated by climate and environmental changes. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction noted in 2018, that globally, floods and landslides accounted for about 70% of economic losses from natural hazards during 1998-2017.

An opportunity to create synergies of knowledge and skills

Based on this observation, Virginia Ruiz-Villanueva (Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne) and Filippo Catani (Department of Geosciences, University of Padua) wanted to bring together scientists with complementary disciplinary expertise in various fields related to hydrogeomorphology. Benefiting from the support of the privileged partnership between UNIL and the University of Padova, Virginia and Filippo organized a seminar including lectures, field trips and workshops. Young and experienced scientists had the opportunity to exchange their knowledge and know-how and to interact with non-academic professionals, confronted with risks and their impacts in their professional activity.

A brief overview of the seminar is presented in the video below produced by the Department of Geosciences of the University of Padua

A very positive feed-back

At the end of the seminar, the opinions were unanimous on the success of this approach, during which the main issues concerning the study of natural risks and hazards in mountain catchments were identified. Inter-institutional and multidisciplinary research projects could be initiated in order to address these issues, in particular by extending the current thinking to new paradigms for understanding the complex feedbacks and interactions between slopes and river processes. A more detailed understanding of how these processes occur and what hazards are associated with them will help improve prevention and minimize the consequences for the populations concerned. This is particularly important in the face of climate change. 

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