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Wetland change assessment on the Kafue Flats, Zambia: A remote sensing approach

Wetland change assessment on the Kafue Flats, Zambia: A remote sensing approach
Christopher Munyati


Department of Environmental Science, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UNITED KINGDOM.


The Kafue Flats floodplain wetland system in southern Zambia is under increasing climate and human pressures. Firstly, drought episodes appear more prevalent in recent years in the region and secondly, two dams were built on the lower and upper ends of the wetland in 1972 and 1978, respectively, across the Kafue River which flows through the wetland. The study uses multi-temporal remote sensing to assess change in extent and vigour of green vegetation, and extent of water bodies and dry land cover on the Kafue Flats. The change detection's management value is assessed. Four normalised, co-registered digital Landsat images from 24 September 1984, 3 September 1988, 12 September 1991 and 20 September 1994 were used. The main change detection method used was comparison of classifications, supplemented by Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Principal Component Analysis (PCA) change detection. Ancillary land use and environmental data were used in interpreting the change in the context of cause and effect.

The results indicate inconsistent trends in the changes of most land cover classes, as a result of manipulation of the wetland by man through annual variations in the timing and magnitude of regulated flows into the wetland, as well as burning. However, the results also show spatial reduction in the wetland's dry season dense green reed-grass vegetation in upstream sections which are not affected by the water backing-up above of the lower dam. Sparse green vegetation is replacing the dense green vegetation in these upstream areas. It is inferred that this dry season degradation of the wetland threatens bird species which may use the reeds for dry season nesting. It is proposed that ground surveying and monitoring work at the micro-habitat level is necessary to ascertain the implications of the losses. It is concluded that, in spite of difficulties, multi-temporal remote sensing has a potential role in wetland change assessment on the Kafue Flats at the community level, but that it needs to be supplemented by targeted, micro-habitat level ground surveys.