Land Cover Dynamics on the Lower Ganges–Brahmaputra Delta: Agriculture–Aquaculture Transitions, 1972–2017

Sousa, Daniel John; Small, Christopher

Aquaculture in tropical and subtropical developing countries has expanded in recent years. This practice is controversial due to its potential for serious economic, food security, and environmental impacts—especially for intensive operations in and near mangrove ecosystems, where many shrimp species spawn. While considerable effort has been directed toward understanding aquaculture impacts, maps of spatial extent and multi-decade spatiotemporal dynamics remain sparse. This is in part because aquaculture ponds (ghers) can be challenging to distinguish from other shallow water targets on the basis of water-leaving radiance alone. Here, we focus on the Lower Ganges–Brahmaputra Delta (GBD), one of the most expansive areas of recent aquaculture growth on Earth and adjacent to the Sundarbans mangrove forest, a biodiversity hotspot. We use a combination of MODIS 16-day EVI composites and 45 years (1972–2017) of Landsat observations to characterize dominant spatiotemporal patterns in the vegetation phenology of the area, identify consistent seasonal optical differences between flooded ghers and other land uses, and quantify the multi-decade expansion of standing water bodies. Considerable non-uniqueness exists in the spectral signature of ghers on the GBD, propagating into uncertainty in estimates of spatial extent. We implement three progressive decision boundaries to explicitly quantify this uncertainty and provide liberal, moderate, and conservative estimates of flooded gher extent on three different spatial scales. Using multiple extents and multiple thresholds, we quantify the size distribution of contiguous regions of flooded gher extent at ten-year intervals. The moderate threshold shows standing water area within Bangladeshi polders to have expanded from less than 300 km2 in 1990 to over 1400 km2 in 2015. At all three scales investigated, the size distribution of standing water bodies is increasingly dominated by larger, more interconnected networks of flooded areas associated with aquaculture. Much of this expansion has occurred in immediate proximity to the Bangladeshi Sundarbans.

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Remote Sensing

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Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Marine Geology and Geophysics
Published Here
December 17, 2021