Erosion and human activities are inducing large amounts of terrigenous sediment input to the southwest lagoon of New Caledonia. Such deposits can pose a threat to the lagoon’s ecological balance and biological richness. Scientists from the IRD’s Noumea centre have for several years been applying modelling techniques in order to unravel the system of current circulation and sediment transport (1). Satellite remote sensing provides reliable quantified data on the concentration of suspended matter in water. The researchers compared the data transmitted by the Landsat satellite with figures from in situ measurements made in the lagoon. The results show the possibility of making a detailed map of the water turbidity using optical remote sensing, with uncertainty rate less than 20%. The satellite images therefore provide key data for calibration, refining and validation of the numerical sediment-transport models elaborated. This dual approach furthermore arrives at a spatial distribution of the potential for sea-floor sediments to return into suspension. This advance opens up new prospects for research.
The lagoon which surrounds New Caledonia is known for its high biodiversity and for the fragility of its coral reefs. What effects do human activities, stemming mainly from urbanization and the mining industry, coupled with sediment input from rivers resulting from natural soil erosion, have on the lagoon ecosystems ? Scientists from the Camélia Unit of IRD’s centre at Noumea took on this question. Their work is focused mainly on the southwest lagoon, off the capital Noumea, where half the country’s population live. Investigations involve several aspects, including notably the accumulation of metals in marine organisms, currents responsible for dispersing materials brought by the rivers, and also quality analysis on the sea water (dissolved elements, suspensions). Turbidity is a factor that limits the development of corals because it reduces light penetration into the water. Moreover, the fine suspended particles carry in metals that can pollute aquatic ecosystems.
In research on particular environments, numerical models can give an accurate picture of events and situations on a range of scales and offer predictions of their impact. The effectiveness of modelling requires validation of the method’s results, by means of comparison against sets of data determined in situ. It is also possible to compare, at the ocean surface, digital simulations with satellite images. Combination of these data and in-situ measurements with model-derived information results in a three-dimensional picture and description of the processes under investigation.
Hélène Deval | EurekAlert!
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