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Vulnerability of the landscape: The geochemist's perspective

The Czech Geological Survey has a long tradition of biogeochemical and hydrogeochemical studies designed to provide information for policy-makers.

Over the past two centuries, all ecosystems in our country have been subject to large-scale anthropogenic discurbances. Our research must provide new isights into processes controling the fluxes of environmentally relevant elements in individual ecosystem compartments.

Integrated inter-disciplinary studies are under way, aimed at identification and quantification of threats to forests, soil, surface waters and groundwaters. Some of our research does not have the ambition to conserve intact environment from pre-industrial times any longer, but rather follows system thinking along the lines "adapt or die". Sustainability has become central to our efforts.

Widespread soil degradation, leading to the decline in the ability of soil to carry out its ecosystem services, is largely caused by non-sustainable uses of the land (see "The State of Soil in Europe", JRS & EEA, 2012). Soil degradation contributes to food shortages, higher commodity prices, and ecosystem destruction. Many soil degradation processes in the Czech Republic are accelerating, exacerbated by inappropriate human acivities. Erosion rates are sensitive to climate, land use, soil texture, slope, vegetation cover and rainfall patterns, as well as to conservation practices. Any soil loss of more than 1 ton per hectar per year can be considered as irreversible within the time span of 100 years.

Our research includes long-term monitoring of hydrogeochemical fluxes of nutrients and pollutans in forested headwater catchments, regional surveys of surface-water quality, periodical monitoring of mountain-top ice accretions and snow, soil functions in a changing pollution climate, and dispersion pathways of toxic substances in aquifers. Predictive modelling plays an important role in today's low-temperature geochemistry. State-of-the-art isotope techniques are instrumental in process-level studies. A new multi-collector ICP MS is used to study the cycling of Cr, Zn, Cu, Cd, and Mg, with the spectrum of isotope systems ever growing.

At present, several projects are under way, funded by the Czech Science Foundation, the Technological Granting Agency of the Czech Republic, and the EC (7th Framework Program).

Slope instabilities are one of the most dangerous environmental risks. They may result in landslides, initiated by gravitational force alone, without contribution of surface water, ice or wind.

Because of its highly variable geological structure and dense population, the Czech Republic belongs to countries that are most frequently affected by slope instabilities and landslides. Importantly, our country has a long tradition of professional identification, description and genetic classification of unstable landscape units. Assessments of this risky phenomenon are vital to prevention of slope movements, as well as reclamation efforts.

Research and documentation of slope instabilities have, once again, become a hot topic in the Czech Geological Survey in the wake of a recent series of catastrophic landslides. These were caused by extreme precipitation events in 1997, combined with unfavourable hydrological conditions in the vadose zone. Several thousands risky areas were then identified in the Czech Republic. More landslides followed in 2000, 2006, 2009 and 2010. The Czech Geological Survey offers high-level expertise in identification, mapping, classification and modelling of slope instabilities, along with genetic evaluations and prediction of probability of landslides.

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Czech Geological Survey
Geologická 6
152 00 Praha 5
phone: +420251085333
fax: +420 251 818 748