Réf. Chapron & al 2005 - A

Référence bibliographique complète
CHAPRON, E., ARNAUD, F., NOËL, H., REVEL, M., DESMET, M. & PERDEREAU, L. Rhone River flood deposits in Lake Le Bourget: a proxy for Holocene environmental changes in the NW Alps, France. Boreas, 2005, Vol. 34, pp. 404–416. Oslo. ISSN 0300-9483.

Abstract: The Holocene evolution of Rhone River clastic sediment supply in Lake Le Bourget is documented by subbottom seismic profiling and multidisciplinary analysis of well-dated sediment cores. Six high-amplitude reflectors within the lacustrine drape can be correlated to periods of enhanced inter- and underflow deposition in sediment cores. Based on the synthesis of major environmental changes in the NW Alps and on the age-depth model covering the past 7500 years in Lake Le Bourget, periods of enhanced Rhone River flood events in the lake can be related to abrupt climate changes and/or to increasing land use since c. 2700 cal. yr BP. For example, significant land use under rather stable climate conditions during the Roman Empire may be responsible for large flood deposits in the northern part of Lake Le Bourget between AD 966 and 1093. However, during the Little Ice Age (LIA), well-documented major environmental changes in the catchment area essentially resulted from climate change and formed basin-wide major flood deposits in Lake Le Bourget. Up to five ‘LIA-like’ Holocene cold periods developing enhanced Rhone River flooding activity in Lake Le Bourget are documented at c. 7200, 5200, 2800, 1600 and 200 cal. yr BP. These abrupt climate changes were associated in the NW Alps with Mont Blanc glacier advances, enhanced glaciofluvial regimes and high lake levels. Correlations with European lake level fluctuations and winter precipitation regimes inferred from glacier fluctuations in western Norway suggest that these five Holocene cooling events at 45°N were associated with enhanced westerlies, possibly resulting from a persistent negative mode of the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Mots-clés
Flood, Rhône, sediment deposit, proxy data

Organismes / Contact
Geological Institute, ETH, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland; emmanuel.chapron@erdw.ethz.ch
PBDS, UMR CNRS 8110, Lille 1 University, France,
FRE CNRS 2641 et LGCA, UMR CNRS 5025, Savoie University, France;
LGCA, UMR CNRS 5025, Grenoble University, France;
ISTO, UMR CNRS 6113, Orléans University, France.

(1) - Paramètre(s) atmosphérique(s) modifié(s)
(2) - Elément(s) du milieu impacté(s)
(3) - Type(s) d'aléa impacté(s)
(3) - Sous-type(s) d'aléa
  River pattern Floods  

Pays / Zone
Massif / Secteur
Site(s) d'étude
Exposition
Altitude
Période(s) d'observation
France French North Alps Bourget Lake/ Rhone basin     The past 7500 years

(1) - Modifications des paramètres atmosphériques
Reconstitutions

Rhone River palaeohydrology and climate forcing:

The Holocene fluctuations of Mont Blanc glaciers and of associated proglacial sedimentary environments documented at the time when reflectors A [AD 1780±100 years], C [AD 384 or 1616±100 cal. yr BP], D [3016±200 cal. yr BP], E [5016+200 cal. yr BP] and F [~7000±200 cal. yr BP] formed [by the Rhone river] in Lake Le Bourget suggest the persistence of cold and wet conditions at 45°N. Following Magny et al. (2003), and taking into account dating uncertainties, these periods of cold and wet conditions are contemporaneous with high lake level phases in mid-Europe, probably resulting from higher precipitation regimes associated with a displacement of the westerlies to lower latitudes.

Observations
 
Modélisations
 
Hypothèses
 

Informations complémentaires (données utilisées, méthode, scénarios, etc.)
 

(2) - Effets du changement climatique sur le milieu naturel
Reconstitutions

The catastrophic impact of the AD 1732 Rhone River flood over the Chautagne swamp reported by Bravard (1981) and the induced major underflow deposit retrieved by several short cores in Lake Le Bourget (Chapron et al. 2002) illustrate the downstream consequences of disastrous floods related to the development of larger glaciers in the Mont Blanc massif during the LIA (Dorte-Monachon 1988; Holzhauser & Zumbühl 1999; Vincent et al. 2004; Deline 2005). Successive similar Rhone River flood deposits contributed to reflection A in Lake Le Bourget during the early 15th, 16th and mid-18th centuries (Chapron et al. 2002) and are attributed to the enhanced fluvioglacial regime of the Arve River (Ballandras & Jaillet 1996) and the intense deposition of coarse sediments associated with the downstream propagation of a braided pattern along the Rhone valley documented by Bravard (1989) and Salvador et al. (2004).

First evidence of human impact on the closed forest environment in the study area comes from pollen analysis in lakes Bourget and Cerin during the recent Atlantic period, but starts to be more strongly felt from the beginning of the Subatlantic period during the first Iron Age c. 2700 cal. yr BP (Magny & Richard 1985; Bossuet et al. 1996). This is in agreement with recent investigations showing that the well-developed and well-advanced Late Bronze Age agrarian economy around Lake Le Bourget was essentially limited to the landscape surrounding the villages (Boudy & Billaud 2001). Later on, during the Subatlantic period, the forest was no longer completely closed in the Rhone River alluvial plain downstream from Lake Le Bourget (Salvador et al. 2004), and anthropogenic pollen indicators point to a continuous agro-pastoral activity of variable intensity until the Antiquity and the Middle Age. According to Noël et al. (2001), forest clearing and intensification of agriculture since the Roman invasion released soil components from deeper than the forest floor and significantly enhanced sedimentation rates in Lake Annecy. Similar ongoing studies on the organic geochemistry of the sediments in LDB01-1 suggest higher rates of soil erosion in SU 1 than in SU 2, and may thus confirm an anthropogenic contribution to the increase in Rhone River flood deposits and in sedimentation rate during the Subatlantic period in Lake Le Bourget. Since no clear glacier fluctuations can be correlated with the formation of reflection B between AD 966 and 1093, this period of enhanced Rhone River flooding events may have been significantly favoured by intense land use in the Upper Rhone valley. However, the effect of human activity on water fluxes is known to be limited (Dearing & Jones 2003), and since Lake Le Bourget is only sensitive to major Rhone River flooding events, the formation of reflections C, B and A can still be used as a regional record of enhanced precipitation regimes in the NW Alps. The reflections D, E and F may, in addition to palaeohydrology, document nonanthropogenic fluctuating erosion rates in the Rhone catchment area and corresponding fluctuations in the Rhone River suspended load.

The climatic signal in MS curves over the past 7000 years in the Alps is further discussed in Arnaud et al. (2005). However, based on the seismic stratigraphy calibrated by sediment cores, and the detailed correlations with fluctuating environments in the catchment area described above, it is possible to recognize (i) the influence of a long-term climate forcing, and (ii) the occurrence of superimposed millennial-scale fluctuations.

In the long term, the increase in the frequency and intensity of Rhone River flooding activity in Lake Le Bourget after the Holocene climatic optimum may be attributed to onset of the Neoglacial around 5600 cal. yr BP (Steig 1999). The transition from the Hypsithermal to the Neoglacial in study area probably enhanced the influence of a glaciofluvial regime in the alpine rivers during the time when reflector E formed. This climatic transition favoured the progressive downstream propagation of a braided pattern in the Arve and Rhone valleys resulting in the trangressive trend of Lake Le Bourget water level since the Neolithic.

Observations
 
Modélisations
 
Hypothèses
The Holocene fluctuations of Mont Blanc glaciers and of associated proglacial sedimentary environments documented at the time when reflectors A [AD 1780±100 years], C [AD 384 or 1616±100 cal. yr BP], D [3016±200 cal. yr BP], E [5016+200 cal. yr BP] and F [~7000±200 cal. yr BP] formed [by the Rhone river] in Lake Le Bourget suggest the persistence of cold and wet conditions at 45°N. Following Magny et al. (2003), and taking into account dating uncertainties, these periods of cold and wet conditions are contemporaneous with high lake level phases in mid-Europe probably resulting from higher precipitation regimes associated with a displacement of the westerlies to lower latitudes.

This is supported by the good correlation of strong amplitude reflectors in Unit 5 with cold and dry periods reconstructed from proglacial lacustrine sediments in western Norway (Nesje et al. 2001). As glacier mass-balance variations in western Norway and in the western Alps are out of phase and strongly related to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index (Nesje et al. 2001; Six et al. 2001), the winter precipitation curve in western Norway may reflect large-scale Holocene variations in atmospheric circulation during winter in the North Atlantic region. NAO-like periodicities detected in inter- and underflow deposits near LDB01-1 and LDB01-2 coring sites during the LIA (Chapron et al. 2002) also reflect the sensitivity of the Rhone River water discharge to large-scale ocean–atmosphere interactions across the North Atlantic sector. As a working hypothesis, the periods of enhanced Rhone River flood deposits in Lake Le Bourget presented in [the present] study may therefore reflect the persistence of a ‘NAO negative mode’ during Holocene cold periods due to the displacement of the westerlies to lower latitudes.

Sensibilité du milieu à des paramètres climatiques
Informations complémentaires (données utilisées, méthode, scénarios, etc.)

Rhone river flood deposits and corresponding climatic conditions

High-resolution seismic profiling:
Over 90 km of very high-resolution seismic reflection digital profiles where acquired using a BATHY2000P device with a chirp seismic source in June 2002. With this seismic source, a modulating frequency centred at 12 kHz allowed imaging of up to 30m of sediments with a 0.2m vertical resolution. The seismic grid based on G.P.S. positioning acquired during the survey, and its visualization using BATHY2000W software, provides a detailed stratigraphic record of Holocene sediments in the main basin of Lake Le Bourget.

Sediment cores:
Using a Benthos device, 17 short gravity cores (1m long) were retrieved in 1997 from the main lacustrine sedimentary environments. The coring sites were previously selected based on side scan sonar mapping calibrated by grab samples.

Sedimentary analysis:
Laboratory descriptions of core lithologies are supported by laser diffraction grain-size measurements using a Malvern Mastersizer at Savoie University (Chapron et al. 1999; Arnaud et al. 2005; Revel et al. in press). Sediment magnetic susceptibility (MS) was measured with a Bartington loop sensor every 0.02m on short cores and every 0.01m on piston cores in order to correlate overlapping sections sampled in 2001.

Age–depth models:
Chronology in Lake Le Bourget sediments was established using 210Pb, 137Cs dating and by correlation of sedimentary events with historical chronicles, such as strong local earthquakes, LIA tributary floods and the lake eutrophication (Chapron et al. 1999).


(3) - Effets du changement climatique sur l'aléa
Reconstitutions

Based on the synthesis of major environmental changes in the NW Alps and on the age-depth model covering the past 7500 years in Lake Le Bourget, periods of enhanced Rhone River flood events in the lake can be related to abrupt climate changes and/or to increasing land use since c. 2700 cal. yr BP. For example, significant land use under rather stable climate conditions during the Roman Empire may be responsible for large flood deposits in the northern part of Lake Le Bourget between AD 966 and 1093.

However, during the Little Ice Age (LIA), well-documented major environmental changes in the catchment area essentially resulted from climate change and formed basin-wide major flood deposits in Lake Le Bourget. Up to five ‘LIA-like’ Holocene cold periods developing enhanced Rhone River flooding activity in Lake Le Bourget are documented at c. 7200, 5200, 2800, 1600 and 200 cal. yr BP. These abrupt climate changes were associated in the NW Alps with Mont Blanc glacier advances, enhanced glaciofluvial regimes and high lake levels. Correlations with European lake level fluctuations and winter precipitation regimes inferred from glacier fluctuations in western Norway suggest that these five Holocene cooling events at 45°N were associated with enhanced westerlies, possibly resulting from a persistent negative mode of the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Observations
 
Modélisations
 
Hypothèses
 

Paramètres de l'aléa
Sensibilité du paramètre de l'aléa à des paramètres climatiques et du milieu / Facteurs de contrôle
Informations complémentaires (données utilisées, méthode, scénarios, etc.)
Large flood occurence

The Holocene evolution of Rhone River clastic sediment supply in Lake Le Bourget is documented by subbottom seismic profiling and multidisciplinary analysis of well-dated sediment cores. Six high-amplitude reflectors within the lacustrine drape can be correlated to periods of enhanced inter- and underflow deposition in sediment cores.


(4) - Remarques générales

Palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimate reconstructions in the French NW Alps are commonly presented for the last glaciation and deglaciation (Nicoud et al. 1987; Van Rensbergen et al. 1998, 1999; Moscariello et al. 1998; Manalt et al. 2001; Girardclos et al. 2005), but relatively little is known about Holocene glacier fluctuations. Millennial-scale Holocene climate fluctuations have been documented by lake level fluctuations, archaeological and palynological records for many small lakes in the Jura Mountains and several larger peri-alpine lakes (Magny et al. 2003; Magny 2004). However, such reconstructions may be complicated in the alpine foreland, where large fluvial systems such as the Arve and the Rhone rivers are draining large and contrasting areas, including alpine glaciers. The Holocene geomorphic evolution of these large fluvial systems with respect to climate, land use or an active seismo-tectonic setting is still to be further documented, but may be key to reconstructing detailed Holocene environmental changes in these mid-latitude mountain ranges.


(5) - Syntèses et préconisations

Periods characterized by enhanced Rhone River flood deposits in the deep basin of Lake Le Bourget inferred from sub-bottom seismic profiling and sediment cores can be correlated with documented Holocene fluctuations in Rhone River water discharge or environmental changes in the NW Alps back to c. 8000 cal. yr BP. These environmental changes were reflected by fluctuations of Mont Blanc glaciers and probably enhanced a glaciofluvial regime in the Rhone River during LIA-like cold and wet periods at c. 7200, 5200, 2800, 1600 and 200 cal. yr BP. Increasing land use starting c. 2700 cal. yr BP may have enhanced the impact of Rhone River floods at least since the Roman time, and be responsible for major flood deposits in Lake Le Bourget between AD 966 and 1093. Nevertheless, Rhone River flooding activity in Lake Le Bourget remains a good proxy for Holocene palaeohydrology in the NW Alps and can be correlated to several high lake level phases in mid-Europe.

In order to confirm the climate patterns involving enhanced precipitation regimes during cooling periods and human impact on environment changes, ongoing studies in Lake Le Bourget involve analysis of long cores in more proximal Rhone River flood deposits. These proximal sediments will be used to: (i) further constrain the chronology of strong amplitude reflections in Unit 5, (ii) extend back in time our understanding of the evolution of the vegetation cover, and (iii) document the timing of MWD and their potential relation with lake level changes.

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