Alluvial fans, triangular deposits of gravel, sand and even smaller pieces of sediment often found in deserts, are usually created as flowing water interacts with mountains, hills or canyons. From agricultural communities to urban societies, man flourished in such a diverse habitat. However, macro-level approaches fail to fully understand the local and regional dynamics at play in such overexploited environments. To address this issue, the EU-funded MISSED (Studying micro-scale socio-ecological development in marginal zones: An integrated methodology) project set out to investigate the alluvial fans found mainly in the arid lands and deserts of Central Asia. Work focused on the Murghab Delta in Turkmenistan. Project partners set three key research goals: to assess the degree past and present micro-environments can be identified and assessed; to determine the extent to which variable and non-uniform aspects of local socioecological change can be identified in inland arid environments; and to understand the local co-evolution of anthropogenic and environmental practices. To achieve its aims, MISSED combined remote sensing analysis, geo-archaeology and palaeogeography in developing socioecological models. It used high-resolution and multi-spectral imagery together with digital elevation models to identify potential micro-environmental regions. This led to a geo-archaeological study to identify sub-surface characteristics of soils and alluvial sediments. The innovative, multidisciplinary approach employed by the MISSED team enabled them to examine landscape changes over a long period of time and develop a socioecological model for the Murghab Delta. Results show that during the Holocene epoch, humans occupied and exploited parts of Murghab Delta's alluvial fan, and specifically a diverse landscape of channels, wetlands, takyrs and dunes. By investigating alluvial systems and river deltas, MISSED provided new insight into such marginal areas and how local populations shaped the natural environment despite continuous threats to the socioecological balance.
Alluvial fans, socioecological development, MISSED, marginal zones