Shifting Shores

The project

In 2018 I have been awarded an Emergences grant from the City of Paris, Bureau de l’Innovation for a project entitled “Shifting Shores: An Environmental History of Morphological Change in Mediterranean River Deltas over the Twentieth Century.” The project, funded until 2022, builds upon my previous and ongoing work on rivers and coast to investigate the environmental history of morphological changes of deltaic coasts.

Coasts concentrate nowadays a large proportion of the world’s population, as well as key infrastructure and economic activities, from tourism to industry. The settlement of the coasts over the twentieth century has been possible through the continued attempt at stabilizing their configuration. Coasts, however, remain among the most unstable physical features of the planet and are nowadays menaced of submersion by sea level rise. Nowhere these contradictions are more evident than in river deltas. Over the twentieth century, deltas have been increasingly exploited and consequent attempts at stabilizing their morphology have multiplied. Over the same period, however, many deltas have also started retreating and subsiding.

Why did this happen? The project seeks to answer this question by reconnecting the history of river’s and the history of delta’s engineering, via the analysis of social and natural alterations to the sediments (sand and gravel) transported by rivers to deltas. This project will focus on three comparable deltas of the Mediterranean: the Po (Italy), the Rhone (France), and the Ebro (Spain) river deltas and combine historical methods, sources and approaches with those of fluvial geomorphology. Incorporating the knowledge and insights of geomorphological research on the causes and timing of gemorphic alterations in these river basins through time, this project will focus in particular on the history of knowledge of sediment transport and delta’s geomorphology and on the management and (mis) management by actors of river basin development and delta’s infrastructure.

Team members & collaborators

Giacomo Parrinello (PI): asssistant professor of environmental history at the Center for History at Sciences Po.

Santiago Gorostiza: environmental historian and postdoctoral researcher at the Center for History at Sciences Po.

G Mathias Kondolf: professor of fluvial geomorphology at the Department of Landscape Architecture, UC Berkeley.

Ramon J. Batalla: Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Lleida (UdL), and Senior Researcher on Hydrological Processes at the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA).

Project events

In May 2018, the SHIFTING SHORES project kicked off with an international workshop in Berkeley, California (USA) titled “The Social Life of the Sediment Balance”. This workshop has benefitted from additional funding by the UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix Collaboration Grants (2018) and the France-Berkeley Fund award (2018), in collaboration with Professor G Mathias Kondolf of UC Berkeley. A selection of the workshop papers will be published as special issue of the journal Water History (Springer).

Future events include a workshop with river basin agencies of the Po, Ebro and Rhone rivers in June 2020 and a final international workshop in 2022.