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PUrH : Urban pollution and hydrology

by Eric Eusebe - published on , updated on

Team leader :

Marie-George TOURNOUD

Team members

Keywords :

Periurban hydrosystems, chemical and microbial contaminants, intermittent flows, processes, transfers, flux, watershed-downstream continuum, global climate change, Mediterranean

Research summary

Human activity in urban and periurban areas generates a large range of contaminants, including frequently pathogenic microorganisms and specific trace chemical compounds, which have been identified by the French government as priority substances. Priority substances are defined in French and European legislation as harmful compounds whose emissions into the environment must be reduced. These anthropogenic contaminants are transferred from the contamination site by drainage systems and after, in certain cases, having undergone treatment (wastewater treatment plant), they are released into rivers where they rejoin and modify aquatic environments downstream. In the Mediterranean region, the intermittent nature of rivers and streams leads to a combination of severe droughts and flash flooding, which has a strong influence on contaminant dynamics and transfer. In addition, the behaviour of watersheds in this region is constantly changing due to rapid modifications in human activity locally, in particular the reduction of agricultural lands to make way for increased urban and touristic development, as well as the influence of climate change on rainfall patterns.

In this context, several questions arise: How should the evolution of contaminant behaviour be evaluated in the context of rapid urbanisation and climate change? What tools can we develop to characterise this evolution and follow its impact on downstream environments?

In order to improve modelling, the goal of our research is to better understand the relation between hydrological conditions and contaminant fate as contaminants are transported through the river network from urban and periurban activity zones to downstream and coastal areas, after, in certain cases, passing through a treatment system. Our main research activities include: (1) the development of observation protocols and experimental systems adapted to the processes being studied and to their time and spatial scales in the laboratory and in situ, (2) the characterisation of environmental contamination, contaminant sources and bioavailability, and (3) putting in place models adapted to the time and spatial scales of the transports being studied, in order to make possible the analysis of hydrological processes and contaminant dynamics and the study of expected changes in contaminant transport in a changing environment.

The research challenges and questions treated by the PUrH team are summarised in the following figure:

Current projects

OSU-OREME, système d’observation RECTHau
Observatoire Hommes-Milieux, Littoral Méditerranéen, action Acti-Lez (2015-2016).
ANR RISCO (2013-2016) : Réponses des microorganismes pélagiques à une contamination par sédiments pollués. Site : laguune de Bizerte en collaboration avec MARBEC (coordination du projet) et l’EMA
Convention Aires Marines Protégées (2015-2016) : Identification de l’origine du cuivre dans les sédiments portuaires et marins du Parc Naturel Marin du Golfe du Lion.