Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Mapping Untreated and Semi-treated Wastewater Effluent off the Coast of Gaza with Sentinel-1 Time Series Data

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  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most contested and complicated conflicts in the world. As one of the occupied Palestinian Territories recognized by the United Nations, the social and environmental conditions in Gaza are impossible to understand without reference to the occupation of Gaza by its neighbor Israel. Hostilities have led to the damage of wastewater infrastructure, including sewage pipe systems and wastewater treatment plants, while Israel’s blockade on Gaza has prevented resources for building and repairing wastewater infrastructure. Because of the damaged or insufficient wastewater infrastructure, tens of thousands of liters of untreated and semi-treated wastewater is discharged into the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza on a daily basis. Despite international recognition of the wastewater pollution, Gazans still live with inadequate access to drinking water and sanitation. Organizations in the region like EcoPeace, who promote environmental peacebuilding, have supported the construction of additional wastewater infrastructure in Gaza, but there is often still a lack of political incentive to fully invest in these improvements. In an effort to document the protracted but sometimes hidden effects of this conflict on the environment and, by extension, the people of Gaza, Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar (SAR) time series data were used to map apparent wastewater plumes flowing directly into the Mediterranean Sea from known wastewater outfalls in Gaza from January 2017 to December 2019. A Random Forest classification of 97 Sentinel-1 images was used to identify 698 apparent wastewater plumes at 11 outfalls. Data on plume area and frequency were paired with field-based wastewater data to test for relationships between the spatial and temporal patterns of apparent wastewater plumes and the spatial and temporal patterns of wastewater effluent and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) from wastewater discharged from outfalls on Gaza. Results show that SAR successfully detected apparent wastewater plumes derived from untreated and semi-treated wastewater, and that plumes were frequently detected at outfalls discharging semi-treated wastewater although plumes also varied in area between different dates and among different outfalls. Correlations between the plume areas and wastewater effluent volume and BOD were generally low and not statistically significant. Various reasons for the weak correlation between SAR and field data were examined, and suggestions for future work to overcome study limitations are presented. The accurate and reliable data from satellite remote sensing data highlighting the environmental detriment of untreated wastewater discharged into Mediterranean Sea offers a new and objective view into the indirect effects of protracted conflict. As such, these data may help to incentivize Israel and other bordering nations to provide additional resources and materials to Gaza for the rapid improvement of wastewater treatment and ultimately better access to water and sanitation in spite of the political conflict.
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