Le management: « Que sais-je ? » n° 1860 (French Edition)

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Trying to monitor rainfall over a long period is also a difficult task, as the number of stations with available data is even more deficient. This approach, which seeks to identify modifications and possible trends, necessarily involves comparing annual values over more than a century.


It therefore requires having access to values that are homogenous and obtained using the same methodology for the entire study period. The gradient was used to apply an extrapolation of observed rainfall measurements to each year, in an analogous and systematic manner. Numerous regional distributions of annual precipitation are based on a hypothesised linear relationship between increasing rainfall and increasing altitude.

Using a monthly or annual time step, an assessment of rainfall at a given altitude is often based on the local rainfall gradient.

Using a gradient means implicitly integrating a linear relationship between rainfall and altitude. However, taking into account a greater number of rainfall stations, whose data series would in any case be for a shorter period, would lead to relatively similar results when extrapolating rainfall at altitude, since Saint-Pierre-en-Chartreuse is still the highest established rainfall station in the Chartreuse massif. Consequently, it has a very strong influence on the relationship between rainfall and altitude, and would continue to do so even if additional observations were introduced.

Indeed, strict application of this relationship would result in mean annual precipitation figures of close to mm at m altitude, values that are highly improbable Fig. Figure 2. Increase in annual precipitation with altitude, and extrapolation of observations using 3 different models. The values are naturally approximations but are largely sufficient to provide an estimate of the influence of the forest on incident precipitation.

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In order to obtain precipitation values that are representative of the massif, the four rainfall series analysed earlier are used to estimate precipitation for the median altitude of the massif, i. For the remainder of the estimates, this precision of altitude is of course somewhat illusory, but it nevertheless has the advantage of clearly indicating the basis of this value, and of avoiding any confusion with a value that might be thought completely arbitrary.

To define the annual mean rainfall at the scale of the massif, the mean value is then calculated from the corrected readings of the four stations. By integrating the four readings in this way, a new rainfall estimate is thus established which is representative of the average precipitation received by the Chartreuse massif as a whole Fig.

Figure 3. Rainfall measured at different stations in year i and correction to average altitude of massif values are in mm. Figure 4.

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Evolution of mean annual rainfall of massif at m altitude calculated from four stations selected for this study 7-day curve of moving means. Nevertheless, some wetter and some drier periods can be observed:. Three relatively wet periods: , and, to a lesser extent, ,. Three drier periods: , and Climate changes observed at the scale of the planet therefore do not seem to influence rainfall in the Chartreuse massif. Climate changes observed in the Alps mainly concern temperatures, and there is hardly any impact on total annual rainfall Durand et al. From a statistical point of view, precipitation received by the Chartreuse massif over the past century may therefore be defined as stable, without any significant trends.

To answer this question, we must now try to determine whether the forest cover in the Chartreuse massif has changed since the middle of the 19 th century. The first photograph, taken at the end of the 19 th century, shows a landscape with little forest, while the second photograph reveals an area with about one fifth forest cover. Photo 1. Photo 2. Similar view in photo by R. For this activity, deciduous trees were more sought after than conifers.

Regular cutting of deciduous trees made way for the gradual development of conifers. Then, in the 20 th century, the foresters implemented a reforestation policy in favour of conifers: their re-growth is more rapid, and there was less need for charcoal. In order to determine this evolution during the 20 th century, it was decided to examine more closely the area around Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse, between the massifs of Chamechaude, St Eynard and Ecoutoux, an area covering more than hectares.

Above this area can be found the successive vegetation levels of the Collinean, Montagnard and Subalpin of the Chartreuse massif Dumas, The study provides valuable insights into forest dynamics. The cadastral documents and aerial photographs complete and confirm this evolution. They reveal the vegetation spreading down the slopes and the appearance of clumps of trees in the flatter areas. Hedges also developed considerably during the 20 th century.

In addition, it is obvious that the evolution of the landscape over almost two centuries has not been totally homogenous over the massif. It would be expedient to follow this up by examining the evolution of the tree cover in more detail over the massif as a whole and not only in the control area. Table 2. Estimated percentage of the main forest stands in the study area, and extrapolation of their areal extent to the scale of the massif according to Binard, The distribution of the forest stands according to altitude is based on several contemporary cartographic and documentary sources Tonnel and Ozenda, ; Richard and Patou, ; Pache, ; Girard, ; Binard, ; IFN, and determined with the help of a numerical terrain model.

For the year , the values were then refined and adjusted to the areas recently proposed by the IFN for the different tree stands covering the Chartreuse massif. Estimates were made for an average year, calculated on the basis of rainfall values observed for the period , and for an average distribution of the forest cover for this same period Tab.

In order to better identify and define the evolution of water resources over several decades, the rates of interception for the three forest stands are now examined for each year since The average rainfall reaching the ground Tab. This interception value, however, remains relatively modest in relation to the total amounts of precipitation received, which are considerable at the scale of the massif.

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The present study, conducted at the scale of the Chartreuse massif Pre-Alps, France , examines annual precipitation, the role of the forest in intercepting this precipitation, and changes in the extent of the forest cover. The impact of the extension of the forest cover from the middle of the 19 th century on the amount of water lost through runoff and on groundwater reserves can thus be evaluated.

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It also reveals that over this same period water losses have not been compensated for by an increase in precipitation. In short, the hydrological balance has been considerably modified, with the amount of water available for runoff and groundwater reserves being less than that generally calculated simply from meteorological data records. The amount of water available for runoff Boulangeat, ; Bultot et al.

Like all of the Pre-Alpine massifs, the Chartreuse has substantial forest cover. Figure 1. Location of the Chartreuse massif and the study area. The limits used to define the massif are those of the Chartreuse Regional Natural Park. Foliage intercepts and retains a certain proportion of the water, which is then susceptible to varying rates of evaporation Bultot et al. These observations showed that variability in interception rates in areas of forest cover mainly depends on the amount of incident precipitation. The rate of interception is highest for very low rainfall amounts and decreases during episodes of heavier rainfall.

This might appear considerable but is in line with those values suggested in the literature Aussenac, ; Petit and Kalombo, ; Nizinski and Saugier, ; Gash et al. An assessment of annual interception was the subject of an earlier publication Dumas, for the three main tree stands present in the Chartreuse mountains.


Estimated annual interception rates in this study were as follows:. First, however, it is important to determine if there have been any changes in the annual precipitation received by the Chartreuse massif during this same period. This is related to its external westerly position in relation to the other Alpine massifs, a position that means that it bears the brunt of humid westerly winds. Since the middle of the 19 th century, it has been possible to monitor precipitation levels in the Grenoble region on the basis of several long series of rainfall records.

Table 1. Location of rainfall stations used. The data was statistically analysed and adjustments made so as to obtain values for the entire period from to Dumas, The station at Saint-Genis-Laval was used exclusively to reconstitute missing data. This reconstitution, conducted using a yearly time step, was also made easier by the fact that there was a good level of correlation between values.

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Moreover, for the period, the reconstituted annual values only slightly modify the averages calculated from the initial series. Naturally, estimating the average annual rainfall at the scale of the mountain range as a whole would require precise knowledge of rainfall distribution over the massif for each year. The spatial distribution of rainfall in areas of relief is governed by laws whose influence is difficult to calculate in detail but which result in considerable variations in the amounts of precipitation received by areas that are in close proximity steep altitudinal and longitudinal gradients.

Furthermore, even at the annual scale, it remains a difficult task to map precipitation in mountainous areas with any precision, since the climatological data measurement network is generally insufficient, if not totally lacking. Trying to monitor rainfall over a long period is also a difficult task, as the number of stations with available data is even more deficient.