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Estuarine Mapping And Eco-Geomorphological Characterization For Potential Application In Conservation And Management: Three Study Cases Along The Iberian Coast

María Aranda, Francisco Javier Gracia, Gloria Peralta

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Geomorphological changes in recent decades in three estuaries along the Iberian coast were analysed using aerial orthophotographs. A hierarchical classification scheme, based on a literature review representing 26 estuarine eco-geomorphological features relevant to estuarine dynamics and functioning, is described. The estuaries selected were San Vicente de la Barquera (N Spain), Guadiana River (SW border between Spain and Portugal) and the Ebro River Delta mouth (NE Spain). For these systems, a 60-year time series of high-resolution maps was developed, analysing the changes in feature surfaces. The main subsystems analysed were beach, dunes, saltmarshes and the drainage network. The results of the cartographies showed general behaviour common to all transitional systems, relationships among main subsystems and processes inherent to each one. This work illustrates how beaches and dunes serve as a protective barrier for the tidal flats, acting as a sediment buffer for the entire system. The subsystems are connected by the drainage network responsible for the exchange of matter and energy between them. Furthermore, an accuracy assessment was performed in one of the study zones to identify the limitations of mapping with aerial photographs. The results explain the changes with time but also the processes and relationships between the estuarine features at a long-term scale. This work adds an important perspective towards a general understanding of their dependence on intrinsic and boundary conditions.