Shifting Shores: An Environmental History of Morphological Change in Mediterranean River Deltas over the Twentieth Century

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 has this happened? 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. It will mobilize an interdisciplinary and international team of experts along with institutional stakeholders at the river basin and deltas levels, and combine in an innovative and original approach the tools and methods of    history with those of geomorphology. The results of this project will not only represent an important step forward in the interdisciplinary study of nature and society in rivers and coasts, but it will also provide answers on the social dimension of deltas’ morphological changes that can inform public policy on a strategic issue of the twenty-first century.


Special issue. Parrinello, Giacomo, and Mathias Kondolf, eds. "The Social Life of Sediment.Water History 13-1(June 2021), Special Issue.


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