RECOVER - Risks, Ecosystems, Vulnerability, Environment, Resilience

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Centre :

This unit employs over 100 researchers, engineers and technicians with multidisciplinary skills in environmental sciences, earth sciences, engineering and ecology to study the interactions and links between natural and manmade systems across the study region and to develop interdisciplinary approaches to risk management. 

The unit includes an Onema/Irstea division dedicated to developing knowledge of the workings of lacustrine hydrosystems, creating practical indicators and monitoring lake restoration methods. It manages several experimental sites/platforms for environmental measures. The unit also includes a research support division and four research teams.

Scientific organization

Risks, ECOsystems, Vulnerability, Environment, Resilience
Research topic: Risks Associated with Fast-moving Gravitational Phenomena, Safety of Hydraulic Structures and Vulnerability (RIVAGE)

Research areas

  • Terrestrial ecosystems
  • Inland aquatic ecosystems
  • Catchment areas and river networks
  • Hydraulic structures including river and marine dams and dikes, soil, geomaterials, geosynthetics, infrastructure, protection and development systems and urban engineering systems

Research projects

The aim of these research projects is to develop knowledge, methods, tools and information systems to analyze risks and vulnerabilities in order to create an integrated management system for regions and their ecosystems. Work is divided into three areas.

1. Studying, understanding and multiscale modeling of environmental systems

Understanding and modeling how these systems (catchment areas, structures, ecosystems) operate under manmade stresses is key to ensuring good long-term management. The unit is focused on the internal dynamics of the systems as well as how they respond to climate disruption (increasing temperatures, changes to the water cycle, intensification of extreme events, etc.) and other disturbances (changes to land cover, changes to uses, management strategies and practices, contamination, introduction of species, etc.). The aim is to improve understanding of the processes involved to model them in order to evaluate the sustainability of the systems and the services they provide.

2. Analysis and evaluation of risk, resilience and adaptability

The aim of the various research topics is (1) to improve understanding of the risk factors linked to natural and manmade environmental systems (climate, plant drought, human actions etc.) and to produce spatial and temporal representations of these issues before (2) evaluating, modeling and mapping the risk using global, integrated methods. Analyzing the way in which these systems respond to various disturbances makes it possible to model their resilience to current and future disturbances, highlighting vulnerability thresholds and indicators.

3. Tools and scenarios for sustainable and integrated management of regional environmental systems and decision-making support

Work is focused on (i) producing diagnostic tools linked to system quality, operations and vulnerability, (ii) adapting management methods and/or restoring environmental systems and researching compromises and synergies between ecosystem services and other functions. Methods using knowledge engineering, development of complex information systems and innovative uncertainty principles are implemented to perfect multi-criteria decision-making support procedures that can be used with information that is varied and imperfect. The resulting research is used to develop service platforms (risk prevention databases, risk forecasting tools, wiki, etc.) adapted to the relevant challenges and stakeholders (managers, elected officials, etc.).


In addition to scientific publications and involvement in the scientific community, the research unit promotes its products in various ways:

  • Producing risk diagnosis and analysis knowledge bases, tools and methods.
  • Developing training tools, technical guides and licensed software for risk management and environmental and regional quality.
  • Providing expertise in its areas of competence, specifically for hydraulic structures and standardization (for the quality of aquatic environments).
  • Drawing up research contracts with private companies, supervising CIFRE dissertations, R&D projects as part of the Single Interministerial Fund (FUI), launching start-ups, transfer contracts.

Involvement in higher education, research and regional government

  • Aix-Marseille University Environmental Science (ED 251) and Engineering Science PhD programmes: Mechanics, Physics, Micro- and Nano-electronics (ED 353)
  • ECCOREV and Energy Engineering research federations
  • Labex OT-Med; CEREGE, IMBE, LMA, IRPHE, IUSTI, MIO laboratories
  • Board of Directors of the Regional Risk and Vulnerability Management competitive cluster

Key achievements of the Aix-en-Provence Center

  • Within the field of marine and river dikes, Irstea, along with industrial partners, is perfecting innovative technologies such as soil-lime dikes that are resistant to overflows and leak detection using fiber optics. Relying on a geomechanics laboratory recognized at both the national and European level, this work is the subject of experimental research, multiscale and multiphysics digital modeling and mechanical reliability coupling to represent the rheological and hydromechanical behavior of geomaterials in dikes and to quantify the risk of failure.
  • Irstea also provides knowledge bases and decision support tools for research into forest ecosystems to the national government, local governments and consultancy firms to help them improve management of regions subject to risks, disturbances or extreme phenomena (fire, heat waves, drought). These knowledge bases can be used to model ecosystem operations and relationships under stress as well as to develop methods and indicators to monitor the status of the ecosystems and landscapes, evaluate and map the risk of fire or model the vulnerability of ecosystems, individuals and regions. Tools such as guides and software therefore contribute to supporting public policies, particularly in forest management, helping to implement the Green and Blue Belt and land use planning with automatic mapping of urban-forest interfaces as part of the context of global change.
  • Irstea develops tools to evaluate the ecological quality of lakes and rivers using biological communities and the physical, chemical and hydromorphological characteristics of the systems. By analyzing operational diversity and rules for the creation of communities, the vulnerability of hydrosystems can be understood. Models predicting the response of communities (fish fauna, macroinvertebrates) to global change can then be developed. FRESHCO is working closely with numerous partners – MEDDE, ONEMA, water agencies, SCP, EDF, etc. – to ensure lakes and rivers operate properly once again and provide the services associated with these environments.
  • The RHYTMME (Hydrometeorological Risks in Mountain and Mediterranean Regions) project, managed in partnership with Météo France, provides managers, decision-makers and local authorities with scientific knowledge of natural phenomena as well as cutting-edge technologies to prevent and predict natural disasters such as intense rain, flooding, landslides, avalanches, rockfalls, forest fires and mud flows in real time. 

Research unit key figures

Personnel: 110 people including 60 researchers and engineers (of whom 10 are postdoctoral researchers) and 15-20 PhD researchers
Publications (yearly average): 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, books and scientific book chapters, 20 technical journal articles, 80 technical and scientific reports
Teaching: about 400 hours a year (including 230 for regional institutions)

Field research platforms and sites

  • Geomechanical technology research platform (Reliable Measurements certified by the CT2M)
  • Hydrobiology laboratories and equipment for observing aquatic environments and systems
  • Experimental fish breeding station under controlled conditions
  • Forest ecology laboratory
  • Field sites (Real Collobrier research catchment area (SOERE RBV); experimental sites at Font Blanche (SOERE F-ORE-T, partnership with INRA), Barbentane and Saint-Mitre; Bimont and Zola dams)

Irstea ambitions for RECOVER

This research unit was created with the aim of:

  • Increasing interactions with the regional education and research network through collaborative projects and institutional partnerships
  • Organizing a move to the heart of Europole in Arbois
  • Improving research conditions by expanding its laboratories (geomechanics, fire, hydrobiology)
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