Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Where nothing grows anymore


Geographers of the University of Jena are looking into the typical landscape of Tuscany

Vast fields of sunflowers, sprawling pine trees and slim cypresses, as well as vineyards as far as the eye can see – these are typical memories of Tuscany for all those who have been there.

The region known as ‘Crete Senesi’ between Florence and Grosseto. The small hills are typically characterized by erosion.

Photo: Beate Michalzik/FSU

By contrast, Professor Dr. Beate Michalzik from the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena and her colleagues are interested in the more barren aspects of the region in Central Italy: In a study the Jena geographers analyzed the condition of the soil in the region known as ‘Crete Senesi’ between Florence and Grosseto, whose hills are typically characterized by erosion – for the moment at least, because the so-called badlands of Tuscany are acutely endangered.

“Erosion is threatening the many small peaks known as biancane’ due to their whitish color. They are marked by a bleak, strongly declining south side and a less declining north side, overgrown by herbs”, Prof. Michalzik explains. Every year one to two centimeters of the loose bare ground on the south side of the slope are being eaten away by wind and weather.

But why, asked the chair of Soil Science, is there a protective blanket of sage brush, orchard grass, wild rye and curry plant only on one side of the hill and not on the other one? Michalzik and two former students from Jena tried to literally unearth the answer to this question. As Peggy Bierbaß, Michael Wündsch and Beate Michalzik write in the science magazine ‘Catena‘: this typically Tuscan landscape is the result of an intense interplay of the condition of the soil, the vegetation and the land-use (DOI: 10.1016/j.catena.2013.08.003).

In the Val d’Orcia, about 30 kilometers south of Siena, the Jena students and their supervisors took 12 samples of the soil of a biancana hill within the context of fieldwork. In the laboratory they analyzed their chemical, physical and hydrological qualities and discovered that the concentration of sodium in the soil is crucial for its stability.

“In the barren part of the hills the concentration of sodium is distinctly higher than on the vegetated side,” Michael Wündsch explains the central finding. The high concentration of sodium lowers the coagulation of the individual layers of clay and therefore they are more easily affected by the rain. The result: less stability and more erosion.

An additional reason can be found in the vegetation itself. “In places where something once grew, organic material finds its way into the ground and serves as a kind of intercellular cement and protects the ground from erosion,” Peggy Bierbaß says. Moreover, the vegetation leads to a better overall wetting mesh, which adds to the greening and also protects the ground.

A targeted greening of the barren surfaces of the biancane hills could possibly stabilize them. However, Beate Michalzik explains, this wouldn’t stop the gradual disappearance of this landscape either, as can be seen by the growing agricultural use of the region.

“In the last decades bigger and bigger stretches of land have been used for wheat growing, which takes away the unique character of this landscape,” states Michalzik. According to today’s estimates, the badlands of Tuscany will have disappeared completely in 35 to 40 years.

Original Publication:
Bierbaß P et al. The impact of vegetation on the stability of dispersive material forming biancane badlands in Val d’Orcia, Tuscany, Central Italy, Catena 113 (2014) 260–266, DOI: 10.1016/j.catena.2013.08.003

Prof. Dr. Beate Michalzik, Michael Wündsch
Institute of Geography
Friedrich Schiller University of Jena
Löbdergraben 32, 07743 Jena
Phone: ++49 3641 948820, ++49 3641 948807
Email: beate.michalzik[at], michael.wuendsch[at]

Weitere Informationen:

Dr. Ute Schönfelder | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Erosion Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Soil landscape memories surfaces

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Rapid plankton growth in ocean seen as sign of carbon dioxide loading
27.11.2015 | Johns Hopkins University

nachricht Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images
26.11.2015 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>