Original paper

Periglacial geomorphological evolution of the Fontainebleau Massif (France)

Thiry, Médard; Parcerisa, David; Liron, Marie Nieves


The Fontainebleau Sand contains tightly cemented sandstone lenses, which form spectacular elongated ridges that are up to 10 km long and 0.5 km wide. Denudation of the sandstone pans leads to a highly contrasted landscape, with sandstone ridges towering over sandy depressions. However, little is known about the erosion processes that have built up this landscape. Periglacial processes, including aeolian ones, appear to have been significant in the development of the massif's physiography. The topography of the massif has played an important role in controlling the aeolian processes. The upwind westerly front face of the massif displays numerous deflation features, such as blowout hollows, high sandstone scarps with numerous overhangs and spectacular talus screen, and a wide uncovered sandstone plateaux. In the eastern downwind district the landforms are more subdued and the sandstone plateaux and their scarps are partly sanded up. Sand dunes have built up directly downwind from the westerly scarps. Further onto the plateaux, loess has been deposited in a relatively regular cover. Finally, in the low areas downwind from the plateaux, there are fine sand dune fields and loess covers. The layouts and arrangements inherited from the aeolian action partly command the present-day relief and the plant biodiversity. There are oak and beech groves on the aeolian calcareous sand deposits, birch and pine trees on the quartzose sand forming the upwind scarps, and wet peaty moors as well as dry moors with heather and birch on the uncovered sandstone plateaux. Thus, the landscape features inherited from the periglacial aeolian action contribute to the striking biodiversity of the Fontainebleau Massif.