Spatiotemporal Variability of the Lake Tana Water Quality Derived from the MODIS-Based Forel–Ule Index: The Roles of Hydrometeorological and Surface Processes


Lake Tana, the largest inland water body in Ethiopia, has witnessed significant changes due to ongoing urbanization and socioeconomic activities in recent times. In this study, the two-decade recordings of moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) were used to derive Forel–Ule index (FUI). The FUI, which ranges from 1 (dark-blue pristine water) to 21 (yellowish-brown polluted water), is important to fully understand the quality and trophic state of the lake in the last two decades. The analysis of FUI over a period of 22 years (2000–2021) indicates that Lake Tana is in a eutrophic state as confirmed by FUI values ranging from 11 to 17. This is in agreement with the trophic state index (TSI) estimated from MERIS diversity-II chlorophyll a (Chl_a) measurements for the overlapping 2003-2011 period. The categorical skill scores show that FUI-based lake water trophic state classification relative to MERIS-based TSI has a high performance. FUI has a positive correlation with TSI, (Chl_a), turbidity, and total suspended matter (TSM) and negative relations with Chl_a and TSM (at the lake shoreline) and colored dissolved organic matter. The annual, interannual and seasonal spatial distribution of FUI over the lake show a marked variation. The hydro-meteorological, land-use–land-cover (LULC) related processes are found to modulate the spatiotemporal variability of water quality within the range of lower and upper extremes of the eutrophic state as revealed from the FUI composite analysis. The FUI composites were obtained for the terciles and extreme percentiles of variables representing hydro-meteorological and LULC processes. High FUI composite (poor water quality) is associated with above-normal and extremely high (85 percentile) lake bottom layer temperature, wind speed, precipitation, surface runoff, and hydrometeorological drought as captured by high negative standardized precipitation-evapotranspiration index (SPEI). In contrast, a high FUI composite is observed during below-normal and extremely low (15 percentile) lake skin temperature and evaporation. Conversely good water quality (i.e., low FUI) was observed during times of below-normal and above-normal values of the above two sets of drivers respectively. Moreover, FUI varies in response to seasonal NDVI/EVI variabilities. The relationship between water quality and its drivers is consistent with the expected physical processes under different ranges of the drivers. High wind speed, for instance, displaces algae blooms to the shoreline whereas intense precipitation and increased runoff lead to high sediment loads. Increasing lake skin temperature increases evaporation, thereby decreasing water volume and increasing insoluble nutrients, while the increasing lake bottom layer temperature increases microbial activity, thereby enhancing the phosphorus load. Moreover, during drought events, the low inflow and high temperature allow algal bloom, Chl_a, and suspended particles to increase, whereas high vegetation leads to an increase in the non-point sources of total phosphorus and nitrogen.

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