Topo-Europe: The geoscience of coupled deep Earth and surface processes

Category Other
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Cloetingh, Sierd
Holding Date 27 September 2008

The topography of the continents and their margins is controlled by processes taking place at depth in the Earth, at the Earth’s surface and in the atmosphere. The lithosphere responds to forces exerted by these processes, generating mountain belts, elongated rift zones, vast areas of recent volcanism, explosive volcanoes and large sedimentary basins. Improved knowledge of the deep mantle and its coupling to the lithosphere and the surface is key to understanding the enormous forces that produce these features. The impact of solid-earth processes on surface topography at plate boundaries has been known for several decades, but their significance for intraplate domains, and particularly the vulnerable coastal regions, has only recently been appreciated. Furthermore, critical feedback mechanisms between solid-earth processes and topography are now recognized.
The present state and behaviour of the shallow Earth system is a consequence of processes operating on a wide range of time and spatial scales. Time-varying phenomena include long-term tectonic controls on subsidence, glaciation, uplift and river systems, residual isostatic effects of the ice ages on crustal movements, stress accumulation and release at intraplate boundaries, natural climatic and environmental changes from the distant past to the present and the powerful short-term anthropogenic impact of the last century. The key spatial dimensions vary from continental-scale mantle convection cells and plumes through regional-scale variations in lithospheric structure and glacial rebound to local-scale coastal erosion and changes to rivers, streams and groundwater.
To trace, quantify and forecast topography evolution in response to solid-earth processes and movements of water and air, researchers in a range of sub-disciplines must interact. TOPO-EUROPE links various geomorphological, geological, petrologic, tectonic, geochemical, geochronological, geophysical, hydrological, geodetic, remote sensing and geotechnical investigations both in the field and laboratory. Researchers in various organisations (e.g. universities, government laboratories, geological surveys) are joining forces to implement innovative research strategies that lead to an improved understanding of Europe’s dynamic topography and enhanced forecasting capabilities. Activities are directed to such sensitive areas as onshore and offshore continental margins, densely populated lowlands, including flood-prone coastal areas and subsiding deltas, mountain ranges susceptible to landslides and rockfalls, active volcanoes, tectonic features prone to earthquakes and intra-plate basins that may contain hydrocarbon occurrences. TOPO-EUROPE is linked via its members to a series of programs that focus on diverse aspects of topographic evolution. An important goal is to simulate the recent past by "inverting" geodata and forecast the future by connecting the past, present and future evolution of the solid-earth system.