Articles | Volume 7, issue 2
Research article
29 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 29 Apr 2016

Vegetation cover change detection and assessment in arid environment using multi-temporal remote sensing images and ecosystem management approach

Anwar Abdelrahman Aly, Abdulrasoul Mosa Al-Omran, Abdulazeam Shahwan Sallam, Mohammad Ibrahim Al-Wabel, and Mohammad Shayaa Al-Shayaa

Abstract. Vegetation cover (VC) change detection is essential for a better understanding of the interactions and interrelationships between humans and their ecosystem. Remote sensing (RS) technology is one of the most beneficial tools to study spatial and temporal changes of VC. A case study has been conducted in the agro-ecosystem (AE) of Al-Kharj, in the center of Saudi Arabia. Characteristics and dynamics of total VC changes during a period of 26 years (1987–2013) were investigated. A multi-temporal set of images was processed using Landsat images from Landsat4 TM 1987, Landsat7 ETM+2000, and Landsat8 to investigate the drivers responsible for the total VC pattern and changes, which are linked to both natural and social processes. The analyses of the three satellite images concluded that the surface area of the total VC increased by 107.4 % between 1987 and 2000 and decreased by 27.5 % between years 2000 and 2013. The field study, review of secondary data, and community problem diagnosis using the participatory rural appraisal (PRA) method suggested that the drivers for this change are the deterioration and salinization of both soil and water resources. Ground truth data indicated that the deteriorated soils in the eastern part of the Al-Kharj AE are frequently subjected to sand dune encroachment, while the southwestern part is frequently subjected to soil and groundwater salinization. The groundwater in the western part of the ecosystem is highly saline, with a salinity  ≥ 6 dS m−1. The ecosystem management approach applied in this study can be used to alike AE worldwide.

Short summary
The use of a holistic ecosystem approach for sustainable development of fragile ecosystem of Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia, was found valuable. A comprehensive analysis of the ecosystem was carried out to determine the complex relationships between agronomic and social dimensions. The major ecosystem change detected by RS was the increase of vegetation cover area between years 1987 and 2000 by 107.4 %; however, it decreased by 27.5 % between 2000 and 2013.