Did Groundwater Processes Shape the Saharan Landscape during the Previous Wet Periods? a Remote Sensing and Geostatistical Approach

Friday, 19 December 2014
Abotalib Zaki Abotalib Farag, Mohamed Sultan, Racha Elkadiri and Ahmed Abdelhalim, Western Michigan Univ, Kalamazoo, MI, United States
An integrated approach using remote sensing, landscape analysis and statistical methods was conducted to assess the role of groundwater sapping in shaping the Saharan landscape. A GIS-based logistic regression model was constructed to automatically delineate the spatial distribution of the sapping features over areas occupied by the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS): (1) an inventory was compiled of known locations of sapping features identified either in the field or from satellite datasets (e.g. Orbview-3 and Google Earth Digital Globe imagery); (2) spatial analyses were conducted in a GIS environment and seven geomorphological and geological predisposing factors (i.e. slope, stream density, cross-sectional and profile curvature, minimum and maximum curvature, and lithology) were identified; (3) a binary logistic regression model was constructed, optimized and validated to describe the relationship between the sapping locations and the set of controlling factors and (4) the generated model (prediction accuracy: 90.1%) was used to produce a regional sapping map over the NSAS. Model outputs indicate: (1) groundwater discharge and structural control played an important role in excavating the Saharan natural depressions as evidenced by the wide distribution of sapping features (areal extent: 1180 km2) along the fault-controlled escarpments of the Libyan Plateau; (2) proximity of mapped sapping features to reported paleolake and tufa deposits suggesting a causal effect. Our preliminary observations (from satellite imagery) and statistical analyses together with previous studies in the North Western Sahara Aquifer System (North Africa), Sinai Peninsula, Negev Desert, and The Plateau of Najd (Saudi Arabia) indicate extensive occurrence of sapping features along the escarpments bordering the northern margins of the Saharan-Arabian Desert; these areas share similar hydrologic settings with the NSAS domains and they too witnessed wet climatic periods in the Mid-Late Quaternary.