Land degradation affects large areas of land around the globe, with grave consequences for those living off the land. Major efforts are being made to implement soil and water conservation measures that counteract soil erosion and help secure vital ecosystem services. However, where and to what extent such measures have been implemented is often not well documented. Knowledge about this could help to identify areas where soil and water conservation measures are successfully supporting sustainable land management, as well as areas requiring urgent rehabilitation of conservation structures such as terraces and bunds. This study explores the potential of the latest satellite-based remote sensing technology for use in assessing and monitoring the extent of existing soil and water conservation structures. We used a set of very high resolution stereo Geoeye-1 satellite data, from which we derived a detailed digital surface model as well as a set of other spectral, terrain, texture, and filtered information layers. We developed and applied an object-based classification approach, working on two segmentation levels. On the coarser level, the aim was to delimit certain landscape zones. Information about these landscape zones is useful in distinguishing different types of soil and water conservation structures, as each zone contains certain specific types of structures. On the finer level, the goal was to extract and identify different types of linear soil and water conservation structures. The classification rules were based mainly on spectral, textural, shape, and topographic properties, and included object relationships. This approach enabled us to identify and separate from other classes the majority (78.5%) of terraces and bunds, as well as most hillside terraces (81.25%). Omission and commission errors are similar to those obtained by the few existing studies focusing on the same research objective but using different types of remotely sensed data. Based on our results, we estimate that the construction of the conservation structures in our study area in Eritrea required over 300,000 person-days of work, which underlines the huge efforts involved in soil and water conservation
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