Application of remote sensing to site characterisation and environmental change analysis of North African coastal lagoons
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This article describes the use of satellite imagery for identifying key environmental characteristics within three North African coastal lagoons (Merja Zerga, Morocco; Ghar El Melh, Tunisia and Lake Manzala, Egypt) and for detecting the major environmental changes within these environments. A combination of Landsat MSS, Landsat TM, Landsat ETM+ and ASTER imagery was acquired for the three sites for a period covering the last three decades (1972–2004). Following geometric correction and enhancement, the interpretation of the most recent image acquired for each of the three lagoons provides important insights into their current conditions. For Merja Zerga, these include the distribution of the largest channels which drain extensive inter-tidal mudflats and the two major depositional features associated with sources of freshwater. The distribution of marginal aquatic vegetation is highlighted as is the intensive use of the surrounding landscape for agriculture. Intensive agriculture around Ghar El Melh is also indicated. The influence of the Mejerda River, which was diverted away from the lagoon over 100 years ago, is shown to persist as a residual area of deltaic deposits in shallow water that has been eroded over time. Coastal processes including the direction of the alongshore sediment transport and the influence of engineering work associated with port construction can also be recognised. Within Lake Manzala, vegetated islands divide the lake into a series of sub-basins which can be clearly distinguished. The large influence of human activities within this lake can be identified and include reclamation for agriculture and the conversion of parts of the lake bed for fish farms. The historical images available for the three lagoons provide important insights into decadal scale changes, which have been greatest at Lake Manzala. Since the early 1970s large parts of the lake, in particular in the southwest where the shoreline has migrated northwards, have been reclaimed. Major engineering works, such as the El Salam Canal and road embankments, are shown to have resulted in significant lake change. The distribution of emergent vegetation within the lake has also changed. Classification of images for this lake into open water, vegetation and land enables the quantification of these changes. Between 1973 and 2003, the lake declined in area by approximately 50%. Changes at Merja Zerga over the last three decades include reconfiguration of the marine outlet and the expansion of the internal delta at the end of the Nador Canal. The images of this site clearly demonstrate the intensification of agriculture around the lagoon. The most marked changes evident within the images of Ghar El Melh concern the sand bars that separate the lagoon from the sea. Geomorphological processes operating within the coastal zone have resulted in the straightening of the bars with central sections migrating out towards the sea. Remote sensing is established as a promising application for detecting the quantitative surface cover changes in coastal lagoons and their near landscapes.
KeywordsCoastal lagoons North Africa Remote sensing Environmental change Image interpretation and classification
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 thanks are extended to Prof. A. El-Dessouki, Chairman of NARSS for facilitating the project work in Egypt.
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