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Historical aspects of soil erosion in the Mejerda catchment, Tunisia

Jebari, Sihem, Berndtsson, Ronny, Lebdi, Fethi, Bahri, Akissa
Hydrological sciences journal 2012 v.57 no.5 pp. 901-912
agricultural land, anthropogenic activities, landscape management, rivers, rural development, soil management, soil productivity, water erosion, watersheds, Tunisia
Agricultural use and related water erosion may lead to significant changes in the sedimentological and hydrological characteristics of watersheds, and therefore negative consequences for rural development. This research aimed to put present-day soil erosion of the important Mejerda catchment into a historical context. The catchment of Wadi Mejerda in northern Tunisia has experienced soil erosion due to weather and human impacts for thousands of years. We used historical texts and results from archaeological research that go back to 1000 BC, as well as data collected during the last century. Soil erosion from different types of agricultural landscape management was analysed together with information on the soils' production potential, the hydrographic network and flood frequency. The results showed that water erosion has increased the hydrographic network by 65 km and increased the deltaic plain by as much as 15 km²/century. However, soil productivity has decreased significantly. Moreover, due to in channel sedimentation and river choking, the number of flooding occurrences has multiplied over the last century. Finally, it is shown that water erosion follows a specific cycle of degradation throughout the watershed. These findings should be considered for better water and soil management in the context of semi-arid areas.