Mejs Hasan – University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Statement of Purpose:

I am using Landsat visual data, MODIS Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) data, and NOAA nightlight data for which the scientific potential is to study the effects of both drought and war/conflict on the Middle East. War and drought visibly affect water resources in Landsat imagery. For example, dams shrink in surface area during droughts, and are suddenly drained or blocked following militant take-overs. Conflict and drought also affect wetland extent. Landsat wetland imagery, stretching back to the 1970s, shows the full original extent of Iraq’s southern marshes, and this can be compared to their reduced extent following the 1990s deliberate draining of the marsh water sources (done as retaliation against the Marsh Arabs, a side-effect of the internal political conflicts of that time), and also how they reacted during periods of drought. EVI data, as an indicator of agricultural productivity, also reflects conflict over time. From the start of the Syrian uprising (2011 and onwards), the mean EVI in the portions of Iraq and Syria taken over by militants has been less than the 2000-2010 EVI mean. This is visual affirmation that instability, equipment destruction and disrepair have decreased agricultural output. Nightlight data gives both a glimpse at war-caused migrations of refugees and internally displaced people, and also gives insight into power outages. For example, the nightlight difference in Baghdad between 2002 and 2003 (the year of the American invasion) is extreme, and nightlight intensity fell again during the sectarian violence Baghdad witnessed between 2006 and 2008. In Syria, all the major cities have seen sudden reductions in nightlight intensity between 2011 (the start of the war) and the most recent data in 2013. Meanwhile, some Kurdish towns in northeast Iraq have grown, since they offer stability and are now hosting both Syrian refugees and Iraqi internally displaced people. Dim nightlight evidence – non-existent pre-2011 – on Turkey’s border with Syria point to more refugee camps there. In all these ways, we are able to examine the effect of the extreme events of drought and conflict on Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.


Description of Data Sets:

The data used is Landsat 7 imagery of Syrian and Iraqi water resources (dams, lakes and rivers); also Landsat imagery, both MSS and ETM+, of Iraqi wetlands; NOAA nightlight data; and MODIS EVI data. The Landsat 7 ETM+ imagery is a yearly composite for which clouds have been removed and the median of the remaining pixels is taken. MODIS EVI data is presented as anomaly data, whereby the 10-year mean between 2000 and 2010 is subtracted from the 5-year mean between 2011 and 2015; positive values are depicted in green, negative values in red. NOAA nightlight data is divided into zones of high, medium, and low intensity, and these are depicted as vectors over the background map. The only non-NASA data set is the NOAA nightlight data, for which there is a general authorization
of use. That data and imagery comes from NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center.