The severe droughts and forest fires of recent years underline Mediterranean Europe’s continuing vulnerability to desertification — 300 000 square kilometres of territory are currently affected, threatening the livelihoods of 16.5 million Europeans. A new satellite-based service is set to provide a continuous monitoring of regions most at risk. ESA’s DesertWatch project involves the development of a desertification monitoring system for the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in support of responsible regional and national authorities.
ESA’s DesertWatch project involves the development of a desertification monitoring system for the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in support of responsible regional and national authorities. ”Desertification is a common problem across Mediterranean nations, because of circumstances in common: similar historical backgrounds, climatic conditions, land use patterns, cultural characteristics and vegetation types,” explained Dr. Mevlut Duzgun of the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forestry, a DesertWatch partner user. ”What we hope to get out of this project is the development of a common, harmonised information system available to all Mediterranean countries affected by desertification processes, making it possible to permanently access the data needed to monitor changes as they occur.”
As well as highlighting any relevant land use change, the view from space can reveal increased surface reflectivity, temperature, dryness and dustiness. Infrared sensors can be used to detect vegetation stress from environmental changes. During the lifetime of DesertWatch, data gathered from multiple spacecraft including ESA’s Envisat will be used to assess desertification trends over time, developing standardised geo-information products to enable cross-border comparisons. DesertWatch products are also envisaged as a means for countries to fulfil their reporting obligations to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD), a 191-nation agreement to fight desertification on a global basis.