Fassnacht joins Swiss-Spanish River Field Course along Ebro in Spain

Colorado State Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Professor Steven R. Fassnacht recently joined a University of Geneva Master program field course along the Ebro River in Eastern Spain. This 5-day field course explored a river system with a variety of uses and demands, to study a set of issues linked to water use and management. The six students took on a role playing exercise to for the development of an optimization of water resource planning in the specific basin in an attempt to integrate socioeconomic, political, and environmental aspects. Climate change impacts are already evident along this river and these have been further impacted by land use and water management decisions over the past century.


Professor Martin Beniston of the University of Geneva was the lead faculty member and was assisted by Ms. Victorine Castex, Dr. Markus Stoffel, and Dr. Juan Antonio Ballesteros Canovas of the Climatic Change and Climate Impacts Research Group (Uni. Geneva). The field trip excursion was organized by Dr. Juan Ignacio López Moreno of the Pyrenees Ecology Institute. The trip explored issues related to reforestation, hazards and risk, climatic extremes including  droughts and floods, agriculture and irrigation, salinization, sediments, and dams.  


The trip started in Jaca in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, near the headquarters of IPE.  A number of research professionals spoke to the class about a variety of issues. Dr. María Estela Nadal Romero of IPE illustrated geomorphological changes to heawater badland areas as a result of land use changes. Dr. Jose M. García Ruiz of IPE gave an overview of long-term, larger scale geomorphological changes that helped formed the headwater regions of the system, as well as intense 1996 flash flood at the Biescas campground on a small tributary that killed 87 people and caused 10s of million of dollars in damaged 


He also provided insight into the agricultural practices across the Ebro Depression that include wells built in the 13th century. Professor Alfredo Ollero Ojeda of the University of Zaragoza showed elements of extensive flooding along the main stem of the river while Drs. Ramon Batalla and Dr. Damià Vericat of the University of Lleida present fluvial dynamics of the system, especially related to dams and sedimentation. The trip ended with a boat cruise through the Ebro Delta to examine salinity issues that influences the agriculture of the delta, including the growing of rice. The delta is a region that has been influenced some by climate change, but more dramatically by a decrease in the sediment loading into the system. Professor Enrique Morán of the University of the Balearic Islands also provided his perspectives on climate change across the area.


This was a multi-lingual course, with all presenters being native Spanish speakers, English being the working language of the course, and some discussions were held in French, which is the language of the University of Geneva.


CSU Professor Fassnacht offers a similar course, Issues in Hydrology, that explores the ecohydrological and cultural aspects of the Duero River in Northern Spain. His course is offered in the spring with the field trip occurring in January. In 2016, seven CSU students joined Fassnacht, beginning with a few days of cultural activities in Madrid including the Epiphany parade and a visit to the Prado Museum. The trip then followed the river from its headwater near Soria along the Spanish Central Range, through the cities of Segovia, Avila and Salamanca, to the largest natural lake in Spain (Lago de Sanabria). It then met up with the Duero (Douro in Portugese) at the confluence with the Rio Sabor. The trip concluded in Porto at the mouth of the river where it enters the Atlantic Ocean. In 2017, six students will join Fassnacht to follow a similar route.