Desertification in Greece

This research, mainly funded by the EU Monitoring Land Use project, focused on the island of Lesvos (Greece) and mapped the environmental sensitivity of the island to land degradation and desertification (LDD) between the years 1990 and 2000. 

Desertification, a specific kind of land degradation, occurs mainly, but not exclusively, in dryland regions and is affecting some 2 billion hectares of land worldwide and 250 million people (UNCCD, 2018). In Europe, the most susceptible areas to LDD are found in the Mediterranean region.


We mapped environmental sensitivity with a modification of the Environmentally Sensitive Area Index (ESAI) approach, employing 21 quantitative parameters divided into five main quality indices: climate, vegetation, soils, groundwater, and socio‐economic quality (Symeonakis et al. 2016). Parameterisation of these indices was achieved via remote sensing and ancillary data in a GIS.


Results show that ~85% of the island is fragile or critically sensitive in both epochs. Fragile areas are on the increase, covering an estimated 72% of the island in 1990 and 77% in 2000, whereas critically sensitive areas decrease from 214 to 113 km2. By modifying the ESAI to include 10 additional parameters related to soil erosion, groundwater quality, demographic and grazing pressure, and by applying the modified ESAI in two—rather than one—periods, this study was able to identify that, contrary to previous belief, critically sensitive areas are also found on the eastern side of the island mainly due to human‐related factors. 

Study area
in the Eastern Mediterranean (Aegean Sea, Greece)

(a) The location of the study area, the island of Lesvos, in the Aegean Sea, Greece. (b) Locations of meteorological stations, soil depth field measurements, main localities, and administrative sub‐municipal boundaries. The subset of red stations are the ones used for the estimation of potential evapotranspiration. 

Sensitivity maps for 1990 and 2000
and respective change

(a), (b) and (c) Climate Quality Index (CQI)

(d), (e) and (f) Vegetation Quality Index (VQI)

(g), (h) and (i) Soil Quality Index (SQI)

(j), (k) and (l) Groundwater Quality Index (GQI)

(m), (n) and (o) Socio‐economic Quality Index (SosQI)

Environmental sensitivity according to the ESAI
for (a) 1990 and (b) 2000

(c) Change in sensitivity between 1990 and 2000