Quantifying land degradation in the Zoige Basin, NE Tibetan Plateau using satellite remote sensing data


Abstract Considerable efforts have been dedicated to desertification research in the arid and semi-arid drylands of central Asia. However, there are few quantitative studies in conjunction with proper qualitative evaluation concerning land degradation and aeolian activity in the alpine realm. In this study, spectral information from two Landsat-5 TM scenes (04.08.1994 and 28.07.2009, respectively) was combined with reference information obtained in the field to run supervised classifications of eight landscape types for both time steps. Subsequently, the temporal and spatial patterns of the alpine wetlands/grasslands evolutions in the Zoige Basin were quantified and assessed based on these two classification maps. The most conspicuous change is the sharp increase of ~627 km2 degraded meadow. Concerning other land-covers, shallow wetland increases ~107 km2 and aeolian sediments (mobile dunes and sand sheets) have an increase of ~30 km2. Considering the deterioration, an obvious decrease of ~440 km2 degraded wetland can be observed. Likewise, decrease of deep wetland (~78 km2), humid meadow (~80 km2) and undisturbed meadow (~88 km2) were determined. These entire evolution matrixes undoubtedly hint a deteriorating tendency of the Zoige Basin ecosystem, which is characterized by significantly declined proportion of intact wetlands, meadow, rangeland and a considerable increase of degraded meadow and larger areas of mobile dunes. In particular, not only temporal alteration of the land-cover categories, the spatial and topographical characteristics of the land degradation also deserves more attention. In the alpine rangelands, the higher terraces of the river channels along with their slopes are more liable to the degradation and desertification. This tendency has significantly impeded the nomadic and agriculture activities. The set of anthropozoogenic factors encompassing enclosures, overgrazing and trampling, rodent damaging and exceedingly ditching in the wetlands are assumed to be the main controlling mechanisms for the landscape degradation. A suite of strict protection policies is urgent and indispensable for self-regulation and restoration of the alpine meadow ecosystem. Controlling the size of livestock, less ditching in the rangeland, and the launching of a more strict nature reserve management by adjacent Ruoergai, Maqu and Hongyuan Counties would be practical and efficacious in achieving these objectives.

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