SUD-MED project : Fonctioning and hydroecological ressources for semi-arid region








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Sud-Med is a Franco-Moroccan research project

the main objective of this project is the integrated study of the hydro-agricultural resources of the Marrakech area in order to determine their best uses. For that, it is essential to analyse and to understand the human impact and the climate influence on the natural resources, our objective being to propose well suited tools for a sustainable development

This project is led by IRD/CESBIO as part of a long term bilateral collaboration frame with Moroccan partners, benefiting from support of the European Commission and other international programmes with numerous institutions within the Marrakech region.

Context :

The arid and semi-arid regions of the Mediterranean basin correspond to geographical surfaces with strong demographic growth. They are of great importance because of their great brittleness and of the scarcity of the water resources available. The growth and the transformation of the needs of the populations intensify the impact of the activities of the man on his medium and can generate phenomena which degrade the environment, which can be amplified by the climatic changes, and their feedbacks can be global or regional.

The experience gained by the researchers of the CESBIO in the field of the ecological monitoring of the arid regions and the follow-up of the cycle of water by satellite and in particular in the Mediterranean, resulted in developing research partnerships in this area.

The ambition of this program is to develop methodologies which permit the integration of terrain information, process models, and remotely sensed satellite data in order to document, understand and predict the evolution of a semi-arid heterogeneous region for a sustainable development.

The principal site of the project is the Tensift "oued"watershed located in the town of Marrakech, Morocco. It is bordered to the south by the solid mass of the Atlas mountains which culminate at altitudes of more than 4000 meters. The snow feeds a series of "oueds"which reloads the principal water table and provides a great part of the irrigated water used in plain. This study site in Morocco presents typical lrisks of nondurable use of the water resources, worsened by repeated drynesses, that is fequent in the southern Mediterrannean.
Location of the Tensift basin,(to the left) : crop zones and pastures on the Haouz plain near Marrakech.


1 * Snow dynamic,rainfall-runoff modelling,surface–groundwater interactions

2 * Evapotranspiration: local and regional estimates

3* Remote Sensing: Agregation, desagregation and data assimilation


This program is based on remote sensing conventional measurements, geographical information systems and models (surface functioning...).

a) The emphasis is on a better understanding of the différent mecanisms determining the exchanges of water, carbon and energy between biosphere and atmosphere. This is obtained through a series of micro-météorological experiments for the main crops. Deterministic models have been developed which calculate the water transfer between the soil, the vegetation and the atmosphere. The different measurements permit model validation and in particular simplified versions which are adapted to local conditions.

b) On the other hand it is necessary to examine the actual state of the ressources : soil and vegetation cover, land use and water reserves. In this case, remotely sensed data permits one to adress missing data in space and time and can also be used for regular updates and to reconstitute maps for visualizing agricultural activities. Through comparison with satellite images acquired over the last 30 years it is even possible to reconstitute the evolution of the land use.

c) Using original methods, remotely sensed data is used to monitor the development of the primary crops, and owing to simplified models one can create maps of the estimation of water used by agriculture. Through the use of land use maps, actual or potential, the regional water needs for agriculture can be established for different scenarios.


the research carried out within the SudMed project since 2001 led to significant results for the monitoring of the irrigated plain and gave a first glimpse of the complexity of the hydrological processes in the High Atlas ; however, more work is needed to reach our objective, i.e. to fully understand the integrated hydro-ecological functioning of the Tensift basin.

Therefore, future research include:

  1. extending the Rheraya experimental set-up into a Hydrological Obervatory of the High Atlas
  2. assimilating snow cover time series into an hydrological model
  3. extending the monitoring by using routinely available low resolution data (MODIS, SPOT-VGT, MSG…) in order to assimilate jointly TIR and NDVI data
  4. using the Tensift dataset to prepare the next space mission


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