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Actors’ contributions

p. 17-22

Texte intégral

1The research activities examined in this study began in 2002, with the setting of the “Supergene Biogeodynamics and Tropical Geomorphology” team from Cerege in New Caledonia, led by Fabrice Colin and composed of geochemists, geophysicists, geomorphologists, geologists, mineralogists and hydrogeologists (annual funding of the operation, allocation plus consolidated IRD operations: approximately €600K). Traditionally, research is conducted within research teams that receive institutional and external funding and draw on a knowledge base developed by their predecessors. This chapter presents the different components mobilised in this study for the research carried out between 2002 and 2008.

Scientific issues

Mining activity, impacted ecosystems.


© CNRT/S. Mérion/Tikiwaka.com

2The key scientific challenges set out in the report submitted to the Ministers of Research and Overseas France were to:

  • characterise ecosystems and understand the natural functioning of a massif prior to mining with the aim of establishing initial reference states;
  • provide solutions to optimise exploration and mining;
  • understand the impacts of mining on the environment (soil, plants, water and society);
  • reduce the negative impacts on humans and their environment;
  • offset the negative impacts of mining activity by promoting the restoration of degraded soils and ecosystems.

3In summary, the aim was to understand the interfaces:


Scientific expertise and structures mobilised for the research

4Several researchers operating in various Joint Research Units (UMRs) already based in New Caledonia, or who had recently arrived to start their projects, were involved in conducting the research. Only the organisations to which they were attached are referenced here.

5Four research units played a more central role (Cerege, Amap, LSTM and Camélia), but the rapid aggregation of expertise enabled the need for multidisciplinarity to be met from the very start of the project and helped establish a critical mass of complementary IRD researchers:

  • Cerege – European Centre for Research and Education in Environmental Geosciences: team established in 2002, which initiated the application of the report to the Ministers for Research and Overseas France;
  • Amap – Botany and Modelling of Plant Architecture and Vegetation: team created to further knowledge of the flora and plant ecosystems of New Caledonia, and metal hyperaccumulating plants on ultrabasic rocks in particular;
  • LSTM – Tropical and Mediterranean Symbiosis Laboratory: a team whose services were requested by Cerege, which arrived in 2006 with the task of studying microbiology and plant biology, and the functioning of symbiotic microorganisms vis-à-vis the response and adaptation of plants to these microorganisms and to extreme environmental conditions;
  • Géoazur – geology of New Caledonia, mechanisms underlying the formation of ophiolitic layers;
  • Camélia team – hydrodynamic functioning of the New Caledonian lagoon, sedimentology, modelling, tracing and speciation of elements transferred by anthropogenic or natural inputs;
  • Espace-Dev – multi-scale environmental analysis and data interoperability;
  • Lama – Analytical Resource Laboratory: multi-element analyses of soils, plants, water;
  • IMPMC – Pierre and Marie Curie Institute of Mineralogy, Physics of Materials and Cosmochemistry: mineralogy and pedology.


6The research was partly funded by various national and local partners.

7The supervisory authorities of the participating Joint Research Units, which are in the front line when it comes to providing researchers with infrastructure, contributing to operations and above all paying the salaries of the statutory staff involved:

  • IRD – French National Institute of Research for Sustainable Development: Cerege, LSTM, Amap, Geoazur, Camélia, Espace-Dev, Lama;
  • Cirad – Agricultural Research for Development: LSTM, Amap;
  • Inra – French National Institute for Agricultural Research: LSTM, Amap;
  • CNRS – French National Centre for Scientific Research: Cerege, LSTM, Amap, Geoazur;
  • Université Aix-Marseille: Cerege;
  • Université de Nice: Géoazur;
  • Montpellier Sup-Agro: LSTM;
  • Université de Montpellier: Amap, LSTM, Espace-Dev;
  • Ifremer – French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea;
  • Université de Lorraine.

8The supervisory ministries and funding agencies involved in the form of calls for projects:

  • Ministry of Overseas France: MOM and CIOM projects;
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Pacific Fund Project;
  • Ministry of Higher Education and Research: ANR – French National Research Agency.

9The other in situ operators and research partners:

  • BRGM – Bureau of Geological and Mining Research: funding of theses and agents;
  • IAC – New Caledonian Agronomic Institute: participation in research via its own programmes and FTE agents;
  • SIRAS Pacifique: private company specialising in the restoration of degraded sites involved in the project, within the Cifre scholarship funding framework;
  • University of New Caledonia for the joint supervision of theses and of the agents involved;
  • Mining companies (SLN-Eramet, Falconbridge-SMSP, Goro Nickel) through research contracts, Cifre scholarships, logistics assets and data access, and funding for colloquia and workshops;
  • Institut Pasteur de Nouvelle-Calédonie: via scientific collaborations; 
  • Dimenc – Bureau of Industry, Mines and Energy – New Caledonia: access to data (geology, mines, energy);
  • provinces and government: research and conference funding, research incentive grants;
  • Congress of New Caledonia: financing of publications and symposia.

Knowledge base

Nickel hyperaccumulating species Sebertia acuminata, called the nickel tree or “blue sap”.


© IRD/T. Jaffré

10Significant work had been carried out since the 1980s on furthering the knowledge of lateritic formations and their functioning (geomorphology, general and isotopic geochemistry, mineralogy, petrology, geophysics, hydrology) in Africa and South America. The published work enabled the qualification, quantification and dating of tropical soil formation and erosion processes and of material flows on different scales (from the mineral and plant levels to catchment areas and landscapes). When related to mining activity, these results could be applied to the knowledge of deposits and to the improvement of non-destructive exploration methods, such as electrical resistivity tomography, which can be used to map the geological structure of subsoils and thus identify and characterise lateritic supergenic metalliferous deposits. In this way, the knowledge acquired formed the basis of the competencies used, developed and optimised in New Caledonia after 2002. It should be noted, for example, that although the tomography method had been presented in New Caledonia in 2000, it had been adopted only a few years later. The work carried out in public-private partnerships built on trust, and the overall dynamics generated, served to strengthen the scientific and applicative credibility of the research.

11As far as knowledge of plants and ecosystems is concerned, the Laboratory of Botany and Applied Plant Ecology was already operating in New Caledonia in 1998, and Tanguy Jaffré was supervising seminal projects on the characterisation of species and soil ecology.

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