A GIS-based approach for gully erosion susceptibility modelling: a test in Sicily, Italy

Christian Conoscenti, Valerio Agnesi, Edoardo Rotigliano, Chiara Cappadonia, Michael Märker, Silvia Eleonora Angileri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

57 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The aim of this study is to analyze the susceptibility conditions to gully erosion phenomena in the Magazzolo River basin and to test a method that allows for driving the factors selection. The study area is one of the largest (225 km2) watershed of southern Sicily and it is mostly characterized by gentle slopes carved into clayey and evaporitic sediments, except for the northern sector where carbonatic rocks give rise to steep slopes. In order to obtain a quantitative evaluation of gully erosion susceptibility, statistical relationships between the spatial distributions of gullies affecting the area and a set of twelve environmental variables were analyzed. Stereoscopic analysis of aerial photographs dated 2000, and field surveys carried out in 2006, allowed us to map about a thousand landforms produced by linear water erosion processes, classifiable as ephemeral and permanent gullies. The linear density of the gullies, computed on each of the factors classes, was assumed as the function expressing the susceptibility level of the latter. A 40-m digital elevation model (DEM) prepared from 1:10,000-scale topographic maps was used to compute the values of nine topographic attributes (primary: slope, aspect, plan curvature, profile curvature, general curvature, tangential curvature; secondary: stream power index; topographic wetness index; LS-USLE factor); from available thematic maps and field checks three other physical attributes (lithology, soil texture, land use) were derived. For each of these variables, a 40-m grid layer was generated, reclassifying the topographic variables according to their standard deviation values. In order to evaluate the controlling role of the selected predictive variables, one-variable susceptibility models, based on the spatial relationships between each single factor and gullies, were produced and submitted to a validation procedure. The latter was carried out by evaluating the predictive performance of models trained on one half of the landform archive and tested on the other. Large differences of accuracy were verified by computing geometric indexes of the validation curves (prediction and success rate curves; ROC curves) drawn for each one-variable model; in particular, soil texture, general curvature and aspect demonstrated a weak or a null influence on the spatial distribution of gullies within the studied area, while, on the contrary, tangential curvature, stream power index and plan curvature showed high predictive skills. Hence, predictive models were produced on a multi-variable basis, by variously combining the one-variable models. The validation of the multi-variables models, which generally indicated quite satisfactory results, were used as a sensitivity analysis tool to evaluate differences in the prediction results produced by changing the set of combined physical attributes. The sensitivity analysis pointed out that by increasing the number of combined environmental variables, an improvement of the susceptibility assessment is produced; this is true with the exception of adding to the multi-variables models a variable, as slope aspect, not correlated to the target variable. The addition of this attribute produces effects on the validation curves that are not distinguishable from noise and, as a consequence, the slope aspect was excluded from the final multi-variables model used to draw the gully erosion susceptibility map of the Magazzolo River basin. In conclusion, the research showed that the validation of one-variable models can be used as a tool for selecting factors to be combined to
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1179-1195
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Volume70
Publication statusPublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Pollution
  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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