Global changes, risks and hazards


IRD research teams in the ‘Department of Internal and Surface Dynamics of Continents’ study the functioning of the Earth’s system via its physical and biogeochemical dynamics, subject to global changes (climatic, economic and demographic). The research work focuses on two main seminal areas: observation and modelling of the continents’ physical environments, and the interactions between changes to the physical environments and socio-economic dynamics.

The scientific goals are the understanding of global changes and above all climate change, the quantification of hazards, risk mitigation for populations, and the prospects for new resources.

The main themes covered by the department’s research teams are:

Key figures

Flagship scientific projects

Satellite technologies to monitor water resources: seven French institutions have come together to innovate.

At COP22 in Marrakech, IRD, together with the Agence française de développement, the Centre national d’études spatiales, the NGO named OIEau, the Institut national de recherche en sciences et technologies pour l'environnement et l'agriculture and the companies CNR and BRLI, signed a joint agreement on satellite technologies for use in monitoring water resources. These institutions have come together to work on new approaches to water resource monitoring using spatial data.

Protecting the ice memory

The first mission of the international scientific project to protect the world’s ice heritage, the Ice Core Initiative, was launched in France in August/September 2016. An international team of ten or so glaciologists and engineers, coordinated by Patrick Ginot, an IRD research engineer, and Jérôme Chappellaz, CNRS research director, took samples of ice from the Dôme collar in the Mont-Blanc massif to store them at Concordia, the Franco-Italian scientific base in Antarctica.

French and Ecuadorian scientific mobilisation mobilised after the Pedernales earthquake

After the fatal earthquake in Pedernales (Ecuador) on 16 April, French and Ecuadorian researchers worked together within the French post-seismic unit (CNRS/INSU) to restore and reinforce the seismic surveillance network, analyse new data, and undertake new scientific missions.

A new take on pyroclastic flows during volcano super eruptions

An international study, headed by IRD researchers and their partners, shed new light on the physical mechanisms responsible for pyroclastic flows caused during volcano super eruptions. These results, which can be used to better assess volcanic hazards, were published on 7 March 2016 in Nature Communications.

Slow slip events can trigger earth tremors

A study has demonstrated that slow earthquakes (slip events that are imperceptible and go on for several weeks or months) can trigger a real earthquake. It proved that the 7.3-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Papanoa on 18 April 2014 was the result of a slow slip that began two months earlier in the Acapulco region (Mexican state of Guerrero).

  • COP22: IRD’s involvement

    The 22nd Conference of the parties of the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change was held in Marrakesh from 7-18 November 2016. After its involvement in COP20 and 21, IRD naturally took part in COP22, putting special focus on Mediterranean issues.

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  • Creation of the NAILA ICL

    The international combined laboratory concerned with ‘Management of water resources in rural Tunisia’ was launched in early 2016 with the Tunisian National Institute for Research on Rural Engineering, Water, and Forests (INRGREF).

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  • Organisation of two interdisciplinary scientific workshops

    These workshops brought together IRD researchers working on ‘mining and quarrying’ and on ‘coastal vulnerabilities’ to support the reinforcement and structuring of those communities.

  • Presentation of the IRD expert group review on deep-sea mineral resources in French Polynesia

    This expert group review, entrusted to IRD by the French Polynesian government and the French State, was presented in May 2016.

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And in the future ?

There are several goals for 2017:

  • Consolidating the ‘coast’ and ‘impacts of mining’ themes, seminal programmes for IRD
  • Setting up an interdisciplinary study of integrated water resources management and new data sources for use in monitoring the resource and extreme events
  • Ice memory: A major drilling operation on the Nevado Illimani glacier in Bolivia to collect climate archives recorded in the ice.
  • Reaffirming the partnership with the Global South in the Mediterranean region as part of national, forward-looking reflection on "Continental Surface and Interfaces"
  • Consolidating the ‘observations in the south’ mechanisms

We will also work to deepen our knowledge of the expected impact of climate change on the interactions and retroactions between the climate and the ocean and its ecosystems, and on the water cycle.