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Assessing the Biological and Physical Dynamics of Intertidal Sediment Systems: a Remote Sensing Approach


The estuaries and coastal seas of Europe are areas of great commercial and ecological significance and have for centuries been exploited by man for communication, transportation, waste disposal, power generation and amenity development. These areas are under increasing demographic pressure and 50% of the world's population now lives within 60 km of the coast. An understanding of the dynamics and ecology of coastal systems is a fundamental requirement to the investigation of this human impact. Despite the extreme conditions of periodic exposure to air and variations in salinity, coastal deposits are one of the most productive natural ecosystems on Earth, with a gross primary productivity of up to 10 Kcal/m2 year.
The major primary producers of European coastal deposits are micro- and macro-algae (phytobenthos) supporting communities of infaunal grazing organisms, wading birds and demersal fish. Phytobenthos populations on intertidal sedi nents therefore have a major influence on the ecosystem dynamics but are generally studied on very small spatial and temporal scales, making the prediction of carbon fixation over large areas dubious and the investigation of enviromnental change difficult. It is timely to attempt to connect these small-scale measurements with the large scale distribution of algal populations and associated infauna to examine the changes occurring within these systems, either naturally or as a result of human impact. The scales involved are very large but recent developments in remote sensing, in conjunction with ground measurements and process modelling, have shown that synoptic mapping can lead to a better understanding of system dynamics and environmental change. This is the motivation behind the BIOPTIS programme. Aims and objectives
The BIOPTIS project aims to maximise the discrimination of tidal flat characteristics by remote sensing and examine the importance of scale in actual measurements and modelled predictions of sediment processes. - To map the spatial distribution of sediment type and "related" assemblages from tidal flat systems by ground truthing and associated remote sensing. - To refine the interpretation of remote sensing data with respect to temporal and spatial variations in assemblage productivity, diversity and structure. - To examine the scale relationships linking RS data with ground measurements on a micro (lum), meio (mm) and meso (dm) scale.
- To input RS derived data to benthic primary production models and examine the validity of this feedback mechanism by ground truthing.
- To use synoptic maps to investigate anthropogenic and natural change in sensitive coastal zones.
The objectives will be achieved through interdisciplinary studies linking recent advances in the modelling and interpretation of spectral reflectance data to ground measurements and supporting laboratory studies of intertidal systems. User group requirements for assessment of human impact are an integral part of the project planning.

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University of St Andrews
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East Sands
KY16 8LB St Andrews
United Kingdom

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