, Volume 622, Issue 1, pp 45–84 | Cite as

Hydrological characteristics of three North African coastal lagoons: insights from the MELMARINA project

  • J. R. Thompson
  • R. J. Flower
  • M. Ramdani
  • F. Ayache
  • M. H. Ahmed
  • E. K. Rasmussen
  • O. S. Petersen


Hydrological and hydrodynamic characteristics are important controls in all wetlands including coastal lagoons. Enhanced understanding of lagoon functioning can be obtained through the acquisition and interpretation of hydrological, meteorological and related data. The MELMARINA Project investigated links between hydrological and ecological conditions within North African coastal lagoons. It employed three primary sites: Merja Zerga in Morocco, Ghar El Melh in Tunisia and Lake Manzala in Egypt. Hydrological, meteorological and related data were acquired for these lagoons. Data included precipitation, evaporation, wind speed and direction, freshwater discharges into the lagoons, tides beyond the lagoons in the open sea, lagoon bathymetry and time series of lagoon water levels/depths. Data were acquired from secondary sources (including online archives) and targeted field survey and monitoring programmes. Interpretation of these data provides insights into the hydrological functioning of the lagoons and contributed to the modelling requirements of MELMARINA. The functioning of Merja Zerga is dominated by the exchange of water between the Atlantic and the lagoon. Large, tidally induced oscillations in water level are responsible for the inundation of extensive inter-tidal mudflats whilst the rapid replacement of water by exchanges with the sea diminishes the influence of freshwater inflows and winter rainfall. The smaller Mediterranean tides reduce the magnitude of lagoon–sea exchanges and result in much smaller water level oscillations within Ghar El Melh. As a result, this lagoon lacks the inter-tidal environments found within the Moroccan site and hydrodynamic conditions are more likely influenced by wind set up. Although freshwater inflows to Ghar El Melh are smaller than those in Merja Zerga, their effects, coupled with heavy winter rainfall, can persist due to longer residence times of water within the lagoon. Freshwater inflows are central to the functioning of Lake Manzala. Large discharges of relatively freshwater are provided by major drains which cross the Nile Delta. These influence lake water levels and are responsible for the freshwater conditions within large parts of the lake. The small tidal range of the eastern Mediterranean, coupled with constricted connections with the sea, reduces the influence of lake–sea exchanges and tidally induced water level oscillations within Lake Manzala.


Coastal lagoons North Africa Mediterranean Hydrological and meteorological data Hydrological functioning Monitoring 



The MELMARINA project was financed by the EU Framework V INCO-Med Programme (Grant ICA3-CT2002-10009). The authors acknowledge the assistance of all the partner institutions in the project. Particular contributions to this article through participation in field programmes and/or subsequent data processing were made by the following individuals at their respective institutions: NARSS—Dr B. El-Leithy and Dr S. Zaghloul; UCL—Ms C. Chambers, Dr S. Duvail, Mr B. Flower, Mr T. Germain (on secondment from ENSG, France), Dr J. Hu, Mr M. Hughes and Ms R. Rochester. Further assistance in the field, which included the provision of boats and security for logging instrumentation, was provided by local people. Particular thanks are owed to Mr M. Mesbah (Merja Zerga) and Mr R. Oueldi (Ghar El Melh).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. R. Thompson
    • 1
  • R. J. Flower
    • 1
  • M. Ramdani
    • 2
  • F. Ayache
    • 3
  • M. H. Ahmed
    • 4
  • E. K. Rasmussen
    • 5
  • O. S. Petersen
    • 5
  1. 1.Wetland Research Unit/Environmental Change Research Centre, UCL Department of GeographyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Zoology and Animal Ecology, Institute ScientifiqueUniversity Mohamed VRabatMorocco
  3. 3.Département de Géographie, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de SousseCité ErryadSousseTunisia
  4. 4.Department of Marine SciencesNational Authority for Remote Sensing and Space SciencesCairoEgypt
  5. 5.DHI – Water and EnvironmentHorsholmDenmark

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