Using Remote Sensing to Identify the Khmer Rouge Irrigation Network

Authors: Corrine Coakley*, Department of Geography, Kent State University, Mandy Munro-Stasiuk, Department of Geography, Kent State University, James Tyner, Department of Geography, Kent State University
Topics: Remote Sensing, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, Irrigation Networks, Remote Sensing, GIS
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom C, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

After the capture of Phnom Penh in 1975, the Khmer Rouge embarked upon a plan to increase rice production per year threefold, with the goal of establishing and supporting a socialist state with the revenue. To that end, a nationwide irrigation scheme was attempted, built completely through manual labor, intended to increase irrigated land area to twenty times its previous extent. The construction of the Khmer Rouge irrigation system was integral to the regime in terms of practical, economic and social reeducation goals.
Many of these dams, canals and spillways failed, and few remain on the landscape. After downloading early Landsat images, we have been able to trace the development of the Khmer Rouge irrigation system between 1973 and its defeat in 1979. These data sources are available for free, and have the advantage of preserving snapshots in time before and after the Khmer Rouge were in power. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the benefits and drawbacks of using older, low-resolution satellite imagery to fill in gaps in the historical record.
Using both proprietary and open-source software, the Landsat images were processed to highlight the presence of water features, and then those features were digitized into a GIS database. This paper describes the remote sensing techniques involved, and considers possible methods for automating canal and water feature detection in the future. Automation of the digitization process could allow for higher temporal resolution in the dataset and provide information on the progress of the Khmer Rouge across Cambodia.

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