The Influence of Land Subsidence, Quarrying, Drainage, Irrigation and Forest Fire on Groundwater Resources and Biodiversity Along the Southern Po Plain Coastal Zone (Italy)

Friday, 19 December 2014
Marco A Antonellini and Pauline Nella Mollema, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
The coastal zone of the southern Po plain is characterized by low lying land, which is reclaimed to permit settlements and agriculture. The history, tourism resorts and peculiar coastal environments make this territory attractive and valuable. Natural and fluid-extraction-induced land subsidence along with coastal erosion are major problems. Touristic development has strongly modified the landscape; coastal dunes have been in part removed to make room for hotels and quarrying has caused the formation of gravel pit lakes close to the shoreline. Protected natural areas include a belt of coastal dunes, wetlands, and the internal historical forests of San Vitale and Classe. The dunes have largely lost their original vegetation ecosystem, because years ago they have been colonized with pine trees to protect the adjacent farmland from sea spray. These pine forests are currently a fire hazard. Land reclamation drainage keeps the water table artificially low. Results of these anthropogenic disturbances on the hydrology include a decrease in infiltration rates, loss of freshwater surface bodies, encroachment of saltwater inland from the river estuaries, salinization of the aquifer, wetlands and soil with a loss in plant and aquatic species biodiversity. Feedback mechanisms are complex: as land subsidence continues, drainage increases at the same pace promoting sea-water intrusion. The salinity of the groundwater does not allow for plant species richness nor for the survival of large pine trees. Farmland irrigation and fires in the pine forests, on the other hand, allow for increased infiltration and freshening of the aquifer and at the same time promote plant species diversity. Our work shows that the characteristics of the southern Po coastal zone require integrated management of economic activities, natural areas, and resources. This approach is different from the ad hoc measures taken so far, because it requires long term planning and setting a priority of objectives.