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Evidence from Italian rivers could solve mysteries of erosion

Published: 
18 February 2003

Senior Geography lecturer Dr Steve Darby will be exchanging his desk at the University of Southampton for the delights of the Italian countryside this spring.

He will be studying how erosion wears away riverbanks in Tuscany as part of a European science exchange programme linked to the University of Florence. The two-week fieldwork visit in May will gather data for later analysis and the eventual aim is to devise a computer model to predict the effects of erosion. Dr Darby's Italian counterpart, Dr Massimo Rinaldi, is expected to visit Southampton in July to continue the work.

Dr Darby said: "Central Italy has been chosen because the widespread practice of dredging gravels from riverbeds has initiated serious river incision and bank erosion. Worse, there are particular problems associated with the use of pesticides and other chemicals on agricultural lands. The result is that bank erosion releases contaminants into the rivers, threatening water quality and aquatic habitats.

"It is our hope that a better understanding of bank erosion processes will help to manage the problem at source. However, until now the problem has been that rivers only tend to erode when they are in full flood, making data collection a difficult and dangerous business. Our research involves modelling the effects instead, which should be more accurate and safer than trying to work when the water is at its highest."

The site selected for the work is on the Cecina river at Riparbella, south of Pisa and close to the ancient town of Volterra. The area is rich in historical links including Etruscan remains.

Travel costs of the two academics has been funded by a £10,000 grant from the Royal Society.

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