Desertification Detected in the Udhaim River Basin, Iraq Based on Spectral Indices Derived from Remote Sensing Images

Abd Al Salam Mohammed Mail 1 , 2
  • 1 University of Warsaw, Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, Poland
  • 2 University of Baghdad, Faculty of Education, Ibn Rushd, Department of Geography, Iraq


In this study, changes in Land Use Land Cover (LULC) have been investigated over the Udhaim River Basin in Iraq by using spectral indices. NDVI, NDBI, NDWI, NDBaI, and CI represent respectively the vegetation, built-up, water bodies, bare-land, and soil crust of LULC. Two different images were acquired for the analysis, namely a Landsat 5 TM image from 1 July 2007 and a Landsat 8 OLI from 5 June 2015, both representing summer conditions. Results show that the percentages of vegetated land and water body areas have decreased. On the contrary, the percentages of built-up, bare land and soil crust areas have increased. The loss of vegetated areas and water body areas is a signal of land degradation leading to desertification, due to the combined effects of climate conditions, water deficit and human activities. Field observation shows that human activities have a significant impact on land degradation.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Al-Saidi, A & Al-Juaiali, S 2013, ‘The economic costs and consequences of desertification in Iraq’, Global Journal of Political Science and Administration, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 40–45.

  • As-Syakur, AR, Adnyana, I, Arthana, IW & Nuarsa, IW 2012. ‘Enhanced built-up and bareness index (EBBI) for mapping built-up and bare land in an urban area’, Remote Sensing, vol. 4, no. 10, pp. 2957–2970.

  • Bauer, S & Stringer, LC 2009, ‘The role of science in the global governance of desertification’, The Journal of Environment & Development, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 248–267.

  • Chen, J, Yuan Zhang, M, Wang, L, Shimazaki, H & Tamura, M 2005, ‘A new index for mapping lichen-dominated biological soil crusts in desert areas’, Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 96, no. 2, pp. 165–175.

  • Chen, X-L, Zhao, H-M, Li, P-X & Yin, Z-Y 2006, ‘Remote sensing image-based analysis of the relationship between urban heat island and land use/cover changes’, Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 104, no. 2, pp. 133–146.

  • Choi, M, Jacobs, JM, Anderson, MC & Bosch, DD 2013, ‘Evaluation of drought indices via remotely sensed data with hydrological variables’, Journal of Hydrology, vol. 476, pp. 265–273.

  • Earthexplorer 2015, Landsat Data. Available from: <>, U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey), USA. Accessed on 21.07.2015

  • Geerken, R & Ilaiwi, M 2004, ‘Assessment of rangeland degradation and development of a strategy for rehabilitation’, Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 90, no. 4, pp. 490–504.

  • Glenn, E, Stafford Smith, M & Squires, V 1998, ‘On our failure to control desertification: implications for global change issues, and a research agenda for the future’, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 71–78.

  • Gong Li, S, Harazono, Y, Oikawa, T, Zhao, HL, Ying He, Z & Chang, XL 2000, ‘Grassland desertification by grazing and the resulting micrometeorological changes in Inner Mongolia’, Agricultural and forest meteorology, vol. 102, no. 2, pp. 125–137.

  • Hadeel, AS, Jabbar, MT & Chen, X 2010, ‘Environmental change monitoring in the arid and semi-arid regions: a case study Al-Basrah Province, Iraq’, Environ Monit Assess, vol. 167, no. 1–4, pp. 371–85.

  • Holtz, U 2003, ‘The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and its Political Dimension’. Contemporary German Arts And Letters, 1-11. Accessed on 20.07.2015.

  • Hostert, P, Roder, A, Jarmer, T, Udelhoven, T & Hill, J 2001, ‘The potential of remote sensing and GIS for desertification monitoring and assessment’, Annals of Arid Zone, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 103–140.

  • Ji, L, Zhang, L & Wylie, B 2009, ‘Analysis of dynamic thresholds for the normalized difference water index’, Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing, vol. 75, no. 11, pp. 1307–1317.

  • Karnieli, A 1997, ‘Development and implementation of spectral crust index over dune sands’, International Journal of Remote Sensing, vol. 18, no. 6, pp. 1207–1220.

  • Lagacherie, P, Baret, F, Feret, JB, Madeira Netto, J & Robbez-Masson, JM 2008, ‘Estimation of soil clay and calcium carbonate using laboratory, field and airborne hyperspectral measurements’, Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 112, no. 3, pp. 825–835.

  • Li, X, Jia, X & Dong, G 2006, ‘Influence of desertification on vegetation pattern variations in the cold semi-arid grasslands of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, North-west China’, Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 64, no. 3, pp. 505–522.

  • Liu, A, Wang, J & Liu, Z 2005, ‛Monitoring desertification in arid and semi-arid areas of China with NOAA-AVHRR and MODIS data’, Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, 2005. IGARSS’05. Proceedings. 2005 IEEE International, 2005. IEEE, pp. 2362–2364.

  • Mcfeeters, S 1996, ‘The use of the Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) in the delineation of open water features’, International Journal of Remote Sensing, vol. 17, no. 7, pp. 1425–1432.

  • Purevdorj, T, Tateishi, R, Ishiyama, T & Honda, Y 1998, ‘Relationships between percent vegetation cover and vegetation indices’, International Journal of Remote Sensing, vol. 19, no. 18, pp. 3519–3535.

  • Qi, S & Cai, Y 2007, ‘Mapping and assessment of degraded land in the Heihe River basin, arid northwestern China’, Sensors, vol. 7, no. 11, pp. 2565–2578.

  • Runnström, M 2003, ‘Rangeland development of the Mu Us Sandy Land in semiarid China: an analysis using Landsat and NOAA remote sensing data’, Land Degradation & Development, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 189–202.

  • Seixas, J 2000, ‘Assessing heterogeneity from remote sensing images: the case of desertification in southern Portugal’, International Journal of Remote Sensing, vol. 21, no. 13–14, pp. 2645–2663.

  • Sivakumar, M 2007, ‘Interactions between climate and desertification’, Agricultural and forest meteorology, vol. 142, no. 2, pp. 143–155.

  • Star, JL, Estes, JE & Mcgwire, KC 1997, Integration of geographic information systems and remote sensing, New York, Cambridge University Press.

  • Su, YZ, Zhao, WZ, Su, PX, Zhang, ZH, Wang, T & Ram, R 2007, ‘Ecological effects of desertification control and desertified land reclamation in an oasis–desert ecotone in an arid region: a case study in Hexi Corridor, northwest China’, Ecological Engineering, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 117–124.

  • Sun, D, Dawson, R, Li, H & Li, B 2005, ‘Modeling desertification change in Minqin county, China’, Environ Monit Assess, vol. 108, no. 1, pp. 169–188.

  • Tanser, FC & Palmer, AR 1999, ‘The application of a remotely-sensed diversity index to monitor degradation patterns in a semi-arid, heterogeneous, South African landscape’, Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 477–484.

  • Udelhoven, T, Emmerling, C & Jarmer, T 2003, ‘Quantitative analysis of soil chemical properties with diffuse reflectance spectrometry and partial least-square regression: A feasibility study’, Plant and Soil, vol. 251, no. 2, pp. 319–329.

  • Vicente-Serrano, SM, Beguería, S & López-Moreno, JI 2010, ‘A multiscalar drought index sensitive to global warming: the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index’, Journal of Climate, vol. 23, no. 7, pp. 1696–1718.

  • Wu, B & Ci, LJ 2002, ‘Landscape change and desertification development in the Mu Us Sandland, Northern China’, Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 50, no. 3, pp. 429–444.

  • Wulder, MA, White, JC, Goward, SN, Masek, JG, Irons, JR, Herold, M, Cohen, WB, Loveland, TR & Woodcock, CE 2008, ‘Landsat continuity: Issues and opportunities for land cover monitoring’, Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 112, no. 3, pp. 955–969.

  • Xu, H 2006. ‘Modification of normalised difference water index (NDWI) to enhance open water features in remotely sensed imagery’, International Journal of Remote Sensing, vol. 27, no. 14, pp. 3025–3033.

  • Zeidler, J, Hanrahan, S & Scholes, M 2002, ‘Land-use intensity affects range condition in arid to semi-arid Namibia’, Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 389–403.

  • Zha, Y, Gao, J & Ni, S 2003. ‘Use of normalized difference built-up index in automatically mapping urban areas from TM imagery’, International Journal of Remote Sensing, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 583–594.

  • Zhang, Y, Chen, Z, Zhu, B, Luo, X, Guan, Y, Guo, S & Nie, Y 2008, ‘Land desertification monitoring and assessment in Yulin of Northwest China using remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS)’, Environ Monit Assess, vol. 147, no. 1, pp. 327–337.

  • Zhao, H & Chen, X 2005, ‛Use of normalized difference bareness index in quickly mapping bare areas from TM/ETM+’, Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, 2005. IGARSS’05. Proceedings. 2005 IEEE International, 2005. IEEE, pp. 1666–1668.

  • Zhao, HL, Zhou, RL, Zhang, TH & Zhao, XY 2006, ‘Effects of desertification on soil and crop growth properties in Horqin sandy cropland of Inner Mongolia, north China’, Soil and Tillage Research, vol. 87, no. 2, pp. 175–185.


Journal + Issues