Ladamer - Field Sites

The European Mediterranean, as it appears on data derived from the NOAA-AVHRR satellite system draped over a 1km DEM after applying spatial mosaicking, cloud screening and compositing techniques. Potential validation sites are indicated (courtesy DLR).

LADAMER Geographic Extension

It directly results from the overall concept that the LADAMER project does not involve project sites in the classical sense of RTD projects but aims at producing a land degradation assessment map for the Mediterranean member states of the European Communities. In terms of its validation, particular emphasis will be placed on the western Mediterranean where a number of existing case studies are, or have been, executed in the course of RTD projects sponsored by DG RESEARCH.

Mediterranean Europe framework

The Mediterranean Sea, which borders the deeply cut southern shore of the European Continent, gives name to a rare type of climate occurring in only 3% of all emerged lands. This Mediterranean climate is known by a unique condition, which is the coincidence of the dry and the warm season (summer). Even if there is a significant regional variability, this single feature defines the border between Mediterranean climate regions and all others.

Specific biotopes and ecosystems have developed associated to this particular climate, which have long been used to define and outline the Mediterranean lands - among these, the presence of the olive tree (olea europea spp.) is probably one of the most common and well known indicators.

Covering relatively small coastal regions in other continents (south California in North America, central Chile in South America, Cape Region in South Africa, and the Perth district in Australia), the Mediterranean climate does not even cover the terrestrial water basin of the Mediterranean Sea itself, where it is mostly confined to its coastal bordering areas - its largest terrestrial expression occurs over the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco (covering a large part of its Atlantic coast), while having no expression over the desert coasts of Egypt and Libya.

The non-coincidence of the wet and the warm seasons, on one hand, and the irregular and concentrated pattern of rainfall spatial and temporal distribution, on the other, impose a vast range of environmental restrictions and conditions, such as on plant growth and on the water and sediment cycles (including soil formation), which have strongly influenced the adaptation of wild species. Summer water stress, flood peaks and storms, and recurrent drought events, are all common problems which are part of this climate, and that have long been faced by the human communities inhabiting.

These conditions have favoured a fragile ecological balance, specifically where geomorphologic and landform features contribute to increased risks of soil erosion, landslides, and disruptive water and sediment cycles.

Nevertheless, the majority of authors agree that present land degradation conditions have increased tremendously over the last century, with little influence of climate conditions which, at such timescale, have remained relatively stable.

"During the 20th century, purely climatic factors were rarely responsible for desertification in the Mediterranean region, because droughts are relatively short-lived. Present land degradation in Northern Mediterranean countries is partially due to dramatic land use changes that occurred during the second half of this century and which in many cases lead to an unstable state of ecosystems.

Natural and agricultural ecosystems may be affected, but in most cases they recover easily. Socioeconomic disturbances, particularly when they occur combined with climatic fluctuations, become the main drivers of desertification in the area. They affect water balances and land degradation through changes in land-use patterns. In particular, large areas of Mediterranean rangelands are affected from transitional processes that cause conflicts between past and present land uses or economic and ecological priorities, i.e. between optimized productivity and ecosystem conservation." (HILL, Joachim, 2003 - Land and Soil Degradation Assessments in Mediterranean Europe: the GMES-Project LADAMER).