Understanding global changes, quantifying hazards and mitigating risks


The IRD research teams in the DISCO Department (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) which can take situations beyond tipping points.

Research 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.

In 2018, the department’s research teams placed particular emphasis on the following topics:

Key figures

Flagship projects

IPCC report: mitigation and adaptation for African transition

On 8 October, the experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report to which Arona Diedhiou contributed. The IRD researcher worked on the differences between the effects of a 1.5°C and 2°C rise in temperature, and how to limit its impact.

Roots in search of water

Why are there differences in the growth of a dozen tree species in an Indian forest? Their rooting depth and ability to overcome exceptional droughts.

Amazon groundwater quantified at last!

As the Amazon basin is difficult to access, the condition of its water table remained virtually unknown. The mystery was solved thanks to an assessment made by an international team linked to several IRD units and led by LEGOS researchers.

Chile, a history of erosion

Chile is an ideal study site for geologists, due to its exceptional climate gradient. Over the past few hundred years, climate but also human activities have severely impacted soils in this country. French and Chilean scientists have been working hand in hand on this issue for 25 years.

Towards the intensification of extreme rainfall events in southern Europe

For the first time, a team including an IRD researcher studied the impact of climate change on extreme rainfall patterns in the entire Mediterranean region.


  • The AMMA-CATCH observatory is celebrating its 30th anniversary

    From 12 to 14 November 2018, the AMMA-CATCH observatory organised an international symposium in Niamey (Niger) on “Issues and Findings of Critical Zone Observatories in Africa”, on its 30th anniversary.

    Find out more
  • Preparatory workshop of the “Geo-resources, Water resources, Soils, Environmental Quality and Society – GEODHE” PSIP

    Organised in Marseille on 22 November 2018, this workshop brought together the heads or representatives of 11 environmental and social science research units.

And in the future?

IRD will continue its support actions for the co-ordination and structuring of the Earth system physical and biogeochemical sciences community:

  • Support for initiatives from the “Hazards, Risks and Climate Services” PSIP and “GEODHE” PSIP kick-off workshops
  • Presentation of the report on the assessment and forecast of IRD’s hydrology discipline
  • Launch of the first joint CNRS-IRD call for projects on “Natural Risks”. By building on past research, the objective of this call for projects is to encourage the development of interdisciplinary research by supporting research projects at the crossroads of environmental, engineering sciences, mathematics and statistics, and social, economic and behavioural sciences
  • Incentive for setting up large-scale international projects co-developed with partners, including through co-financing, via the increased use of the Institute’s seed fund
  • development of joint initiatives with AFD in the research domain