Marine Science Faculty Publications

MODIS Observations of Human-Induced Changes in the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq

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Mesopotamian marshes, Wetlands, MODIS, Remote sensing, Iraq, Iran, Restoration

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With a total area of >7,750 km2, the Mesopotamian marshes near the border between Iraq and Iran provide habitats for millions of birds and most of the commercial fisheries in this region. Beginning in the 1990s, human activities such as war, dam construction, restoration, and water supply diversions significantly influenced the ecosystems. Yet, to date only a handful of reports document changes in the marshes, all using field measurements or sporadic satellite observations. Here, using long-term MODIS observations between 2000 and 2012 we quantified the annual changes and long-term trends in both the vegetation and water coverage (i.e., the areas of vegetation and water) in the Al-Hammar, Al-Huwaiza, and the Central marshes, the three major marshes in this region. In addition to seasonality, the most notable patterns are the three distinctive regimes within the observation period: the 2000–2003 regime for low coverage of both vegetation and water, the 2004–2008 regime for significantly increased coverage, and the 2009–2012 regime for reduced coverage (almost back to the 2000–2003 levels). Relative to the 2000–2003 regime, increases in the vegetation coverage during 2004–2008 ranged from 50 to >100 %. It is likely that these changes are the result of human induced activities, with weather fluctuations (e.g., precipitation) playing a minor role. Continuous and sustainable monitoring through combining satellite and field measurements is required to fully understand the consequences of such changes as well as to evaluate the impacts of future restoration programs.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Wetlands, v. 35, p. 31-40