Project Overview

Topography plays a fundamental role in our daily life. Since ancient times, humankind uses and interacts with the landscape often ignoring its complex and evolving character. The present state and behavior of the topography represents the ultimate product of processes interacting on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Shallow processes include sedimentation, erosion, and sea level changes, which, in turn, are influenced by the hydrosphere and the atmosphere. Time dependent deep processes and related transient surface signals consist of long-term tectonics, uplift and subsidence coupled to mantle/glacial/river dynamics, isostatic compensation coupled to lithospheric bending and mantle flow, magma emplacement, as well as seismic cycles coupled to lower crustal and mantle flow stress accumulation and release. Thus, the evolution of this delicate and fragile unsteady equilibrium is the natural theme of multi-disciplinary studies, often focused on orogens that are the most impressive areas where all these processes interact simultaneously. Yet, until recently, processes that ultimately shape the Earth’s surface shaping have been separately studied. In particular, the linkage between climate and tectonics, and the interaction between mantle convection and lithosphere-crustal dynamics still remain poorly understood. The complex rheological and scaling laws that control the linkage between erosion and tectonics at different time and length scales, are difficult (1) to constrain geologically, (2) to reproduce in the laboratory, and (3) to model mathematically.

What does sculpt the topography of continents? To answer this unsolved question, still after the establishment of the plate tectonics theory, TOPOMOD will investigate the interaction between surface dynamics, crustal deformation and lithospheric/mantle processes. TOPOMOD will focus on the competing role played by surface mass flux (erosion, transport and deposition) and deep processes (localization of deformation in the crust/lithosphere and mantle flow) using a synergic approach. The research projects will explore: 1) how to distinguish between shallow and deep sources of the topography, in a wide range of tectonic contexts identifying 2) the spatial/temporal development of the topographic signal; 3) the factors controlling the growth/shape of mountain ranges and 4) possible relations with geohazards in continental plate interiors; 5) the effects of climate changes on surface processes and possible influence on tectonic processes. Investigating the interaction between processes, previously believed to be  independent requires a multi-disciplinary, multi-scale approach, able to capture signals at different wavelengths and timescales, as well as the development of new technologies.

The investigation of the coupling between surface and deep processes based on the analysis of the interactions between physical processes operating from the single fault to the crustal architecture and even up to continental large-scale dynamics will provide a successful inter-disciplinary, multi-scale training ground for young scientists. It will introduce them to the diversity and interaction of processes controlling the evolution of the Earth’s surface, having the challenge of unravelling this complexity through the synergy of different geoscientific disciplines. At the same time, young scientists will have the unique opportunity to engage in an area of research that can seriously influence human life and ecosystems. The study of the mechanisms controlling the Earth’s topography is critical in governing vital surface processes – landslides, rock fall, floods, earthquakes and volcanic unrest- and related geohazard, as well as long term phenomena such as climate changes, global geochemical cycles and biodiversity evolution. Hence, the understanding of mechanisms controlling the way Earth surface is sculptured and evolves is mandatory and gives a rare occasion to gather social and Geosciences related interests, forwarding solid Earth Sciences in response to the needs of society. Moreover, the scientific know-how, the strong team-building, organization, management, and networking experience gained in TOPOMOD frame will provide improved working opportunities for young researchers as this integrated expertise can be adopted in the widest range of applications, both in the academia or in the industry. The primary objectives of TOPOMOD are:

1. to advance the understanding of processes controlling topography development and related geohazard by fully taking into account the interactions between physical processes operating at different length- and time – scales;

2. to train 13 early-stage researchers (ESRs) and 2 experienced researchers (ERs) in state-of-the-art concepts and leading-edge research techniques that are essential to study the behavior of complex natural systems, while providing them with strong career management skills and solid professional connections;

3. to increase the impact and international visibility of European research by structuring the research training capacities in modelling via the establishment of a long-term collaboration and synergy among 8 research teams internationally recognized for their excellence in complementary fields of Earth Sciences, namely: structural geology, geomorphology, seismology, geochemistry, InSAR, laboratory and numerical modelling of geological processes, to which are associated 1 research institutions, 3 high-technology enterprises, and a large multinational companies in the oil and gas industry.


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