Identifying active water flow paths in a tropical wetland with radar remote sensing data (wetland interferometry) : The case of the Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta, Colombia

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Institutionen för naturgeografi

Abstract: Despite being one of the most productive ecosystems on earth, wetland areas have been heavily affected by human activities. The Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta (CGSM) in Colombia is one of these wetlands, where the inadequate construction of roads modified the hydrology and connectivity of this water body, generating massive mangrove mortality episodes. The lack of knowledge on the hydrological processes and connectivity of the CGSM has impaired mangrove restoration plans. Here we use wetland interferometry technique to remotely monitor the wetland and understand the flow of water in/out and across the CGSM wetland complex. A close collaboration with Miami University allowed us to access CGSM’s interferograms created with ALOS Palsar satellite data (from 2007 until 2011). The interferograms resulting from the analysis were correlated with daily hydrological data (precipitation, runoff in the main inflow of freshwater to the wetland, tide charts) to finally identify two main paths of inflow of water that are still active and are continuously feeding freshwater into the Cienaga. The most persistent was identified in the south-west part of the CGSM; a water flow coming directly from the Magdalena River and entering the main lagoon in its south-west corner. The second was located in the north-west area, where most of the mangroves have died. In this case, different interferograms showed different potential water flow paths depending on the season (dry / wet season), the Magdalena River’s discharge and the rainfall. These results reflect the complex hydrology of the CGSM . Furthermore, a coherence analysis was conducted to assess the quality of the remote sensing data and to better understand the different responses of the features within the Cienaga. The results showed that the coherence analysis could also be potentially used to identify areas of dead mangrove. This study confirms that despite the blockage of the connectivity of the wetlands, there are still important freshwater flow paths feeding the CGSM. Additional hydrological studies are needed to ensure the further understanding of the hydrology of the CGSM and confirm the results of this study.

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