Land degradation assessment over Iberia during 1982-2012

Gouveia C.M., Páscoa P., Russo A., Trigo, R.M.
Cuadernos de Investigacion Geografica, 42, 89-112. DOI: 10.18172/cig.2945

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Land degradation is recognized as an important environmental and social problem in arid and semi-arid regions, particularly within a climate change context. In the last three decades the entire Mediterranean basin has been affected by more frequent droughts, covering large sectors and often lasting more than one year. The Iberian Peninsula has been equally affected by intense drought events since the 1980s. According to the latest IPCC report the Mediterranean region will suffer further hydrological stress in the coming decades, as a consequence of diminishing of precipitation and increasing of average and extreme temperatures. This climatic outlook coupled with the land abandonment and/or intensification of some areas requires a continuous monitoring and early detection of degradation. The present work intends to contribute to such objectives.Land degradation could be stated as a longstanding deterioration in ecosystems productivity. Here we assess the ability of NDVI to be used as an indicator of land degradation over Iberia, from 1982 to 2012. The negative trends of the residuals obtained after removing the precipitation influence on NDVI were assumed to indicate land degradation. A widespread land improvement was observed over Iberia with few hot spots of land degradation located mainly in central and southern sectors and in east Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. The comparison of spatial patterns of residual trends with dryness for the aridity regions over Iberia highlighted the relatively small fraction of land degradation that experiences an increased dryness, although almost totality belonging to semi-arid region. On the other hand, land improvement is only associated with a tendency of wetness in the northeastern humid sector. Moreover, less than 20% of the area presenting land degradation corresponds to regions associated with land cover changes, being the new land cover types associated with transitional woodland-shrub, permanent and annual crops and permanently irrigated land areas.