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THE SPATIAL DIMENSION OF

LANDSCAPE SUSTAINABILITY
ROBERT BACKHAUS , MICHAEL BOCK and STEFAN WEIERS
German Aerospace Center (DLR), German Remote Sensing Data Center,
Linder Hohe, D-51147 Koln, Germany
( author for correspondence, e-mail: robert.backhaus@dlr.de; fax: +49 2203 68309)
(Received 19 January 2001; accepted 17 June 2002)

Abstract. Sustainability indicators are mostly derived from parameters which are, in the spatial dimension,
more or less distribution-free. In the majority of cases, the indicators are based on statistical data on production,
consumption, pollutants emission, land use, etc. This statistical approach is liable to mask sustainability risks
which are primarily caused by specific spatial and temporal patterns of landscape and land use structure,
such as degradation of soil functions, disturbances in the landscapes water balance, and losses in functional
habitat quality.
Sustainability risks due to ecologically non-adapted spatial landuse patterns require measures on regional
to local scales, based on disaggregated, spatially explicit indicators. Depending on the respective planning
and decision level, different levels of spatial aggregation/disaggregation have to be considered.
In the concept presented here, a differentiated approach is proposed. For an aggregated assessment of
landscape sustainability, long term monitoring of the dynamics of water flow and matter load at the outlet
point of river catchments is recommended. A prerequisite for analyzing those measurements in terms of the
catchments land cover and land use pattern, as well as changes thereof, is a Geographic Information System
(GIS) holding relevant up-to-date geodata sets. For a spatially more detailed indication of sustainability risks,
an approach of GIS-based functional landscape assessment was demonstrated in a regional case study.
The results show GIS on regional to local scales together with satellite remote sensing data on land cover
and landuse to be a powerful data basis for spatially explicit landscape evaluation, provided that suitable
models for assessing specific landscape functions are applied.
Key words: GIS, landscape evaluation, spatial indicators, sustainable development.

1. Introduction

In chapter 40 of the Agenda 21, the development and implementation of suitable


indicator parameters and evaluation criteria for sustainable development is definitely
demanded. Up to now, considerable efforts have been made in establishing global
indicator sets (OECD, 1993; 1994; EEA, 1995; CSD, 1996) as well as in modifying
and adapting them to specific boundary conditions on regional and local scales,
resulting in a multitude of national and sub-national initiatives (e.g. Adriaanse,
1993; 1994; Opschoor and Reijnders, 1991; PCSD, 1996; UK Department of the
Environment, 1999; for a synoptic review, see Paskaleva, 1999).
In Germany, the challenging task of developing a national sustainable
development concept has been taken up by several public authorities, NGOs
and scientific institutions (UBA, 1997; BUND and MISEREOR, 1996;
Environment, Development and Sustainability 4: 237251, 2002.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

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Renn and Kastenholz, 1996). At present, the Helmholtz Community of German


Research Centres (HGF) is carrying out the interdisciplinary project Sustainable
Global Development Perspectives for Germany which follows an integrative
approach addressing the ecological, economic, social, and institutional dimension
of sustainable development, and combining strategy elements of efficiency, sufficiency, and consistency (Jorissen et al., 1999; Kopfmuller et al., 2001). In the course
of this project, we analyzed the problem that most available indicators are conceived
as statistical parameters not reflecting any specific spatial distribution. The statistical approach seems to be adequate to describe economic, societal, and institutional
systems in general, but it should be questioned as to its significance in the ecological
dimension, especially where the sustainability of regional land use is concerned.
Therefore, this paper attempts a trade-off between spatial explicitness and statistical aggregation in the regional assessment of landscapes sustainability (Section 2),
and presents an assessment concept taking into account both aspects. The aggregated assessment approach is dealt with on a conceptual level, with emphasis on
monitoring the landscape water balance (Section 3). The spatially explicit approach
(Section 4) is based on a concept of functional landscape assessment (Section 4.1)
and is demonstrated in more detail by an application in a regional case study
(Section 4.2). The conclusions (Section 5) are presented as a contribution to the
international discussion on regional bottom-up approaches to sustainability, the
latter being regarded as a necessary complement to global top-down concepts.

2. Spatial explicitness versus statistical aggregation

Sustainability indicators are required for political as well as operational purposes.


In the political context, indicators support problem recognition and awareness,
problem communication and opinion forming, and designing strategies for solution. On the operational level, indicators are essential for goal-specific planning
and directing of activities, efficient monitoring and control of actions taken, and
consistent reporting in fulfillment of national and intergovernmental regulations.
A comprehensive overview on indicator sets published or implemented is given by
Kopfmuller et al. (2001).
Most indicators, however, are based on highly aggregated data containing little
or no information on the underlying spatial distribution patterns. In the majority of cases, these data represent regional averages or annual totals of production
and consumption rates, and in the ecological dimension, emission rates, pollutant concentrations related to environmental media, and areal statistics of specific
landcover classes. Due to the statistic sources of most indicator data, any spatial
aggregation or disaggregation is restricted to administrative area units such as the
Nomenclature Unites Territoriale Statistique (NUT), a harmonised and hierarchical
reference framework for the administrative units in the European Union elaborated
by the statistical service of the European Commission EUROSTAT. The advantages
of the statistical approach are not to be ignored. They comprise minimized data

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costs by utilization of available public statistics, a high potential of sectoral aggregation and disaggregation, as well as a high compatibility to top-down concepts of
sustainable development based on generalized sustainability rules without spatial
reference (Jorissen et al., 1999). It can also be assumed that the spatial anonymity
of statistical indicators favours their political acceptance.
Obviously, there are also some problems inherent to this approach. In any dimension of sustainability, application of highly aggregated statistical indicators will, on
the operational level, have to cope with the problem of indicator values being dependent on spatial scale as well as on the areal frame chosen for spatial reference. For
example, the environmental indicator Forest Area Change (CSD, 1996) is defined
as the amount of natural and plantation forest area tracked over time, measured
in hectares. It is quite evident that a highly fragmented woodland embedded in an
agricultural landscape, and a coherent mountain forest of equal area size will not
be discriminated by this indicator, although they can be assumed to greatly differ
in their ecological and economic functions. With decreasing spatial detailedness
(e.g. indicator aggregation on the national level), structural differences of this kind
will be increasingly obfuscated. Even if a statistical indicator reflecting structural
features of the landscape is applied, e.g., Decrease in coherent areas with low
traffic (UBA, 1997), ecological effects due to the specific spatial interaction of
geological substrate, soil type and texture, climate, water balance, landuse, and
habitat quality will not be indicated. In the ecological dimension, this problem is
aggravated by the wide-spread incongruity of ecological and administrative areal
frames of reference. For spatial disaggregation of an indicator, it makes quite a difference if the spatial segmentation is defined according to administrative subunits
or biogeographic regions or river catchments.
The problem of spatial explicitness is less critical in the case of sustainability
risks which are caused by diffuse emissions leading to ecotoxic effects and climate
change. For environmental pollutants from diffuse sources, it may be sufficient to
derive pressure and state indicators from average values of emission/immission rates
and matter loads in environmental media without spatial reference. Merely statistical
indicators will, however, tend to produce diagnostic gaps where sustainability risks
due to specific regional patterns of landuse are concerned. The spatial patterns
of intensive agriculture and urban fabric are particularly critical for maintaining
the natural resources and regulative functions of the landscape. This is evident for
sustainability problems such as soil degradation and landscape water balance as
well as biodiversity losses by structural habitat degradation (Pimentel, 1997; Ripl,
1995; Muhle, 1998).
These problems require regionally adjusted measures, based on disaggregated,
spatially explicit indicators. If the underlying information system does not provide
sufficiently flexible links, allowing the indicator data to be disaggregated down
to the regional level in a spatially explicit way, e.g., by means of a Geographical
Information System (GIS), it will be necessary to refer to suitable additional data
bases (if available), a solution which seems not very promising in terms of data
consistency and cost efficiency.

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Efficiency losses will also be incurred in the spatial allocation of administrative


measures and economic activities, if solely based on statistical indicators. This is
critical especially for industrialized, densely populated countries where land surface
is a scarce resource and maximum efficiency in the spatial distribution of land use is a
prerequisite to produce sustainable structures. Distribution conflicts arise with activity fields like agriculture, forestry, construction and housing, leisure and tourism, etc.
Even for developing countries, the wide-spread assumption of spare cultivable land
being available to a great extent has recently been critically reviewed (Young, 1999).
A spatially differentiated indicator system on the regional scale, on the other hand,
will not comply with the demands of decision makers on the national or supranational level, which call for much more compact indicators. For example, in the federally organized German administration, most responsibilities for spatial planning
and monitoring rest with subnational (federal state, district, municipal) authorities,
whereas the federal administration is answerable for the national sustainable development strategy, related action plans and reports to supranational bodies, e.g., the
European Commission. Apparently, what we have to look for is an indicator system
providing spatial aggregation without masking the effects of specific spatial distributions. Regarding the problem of landscape sustainability (erosion, soil degradation,
hydrological imbalances, biodiversity losses), it must be doubted if this requirement
can be met by simply nationwide computational aggregation of regionally differentiated data. This would mean high resolution (1 : 10 0001 : 25 000) mapping and
monitoring of spatial indicators being done over the total area, with aggregation
to low resolution (1 : 100 0001 : 200 000) overview maps to follow. In a federal
system, this approach will imply, apart from financial problems, considerable difficulties regarding temporal and technical consistency of data. Instead, it seems more
practical to focus high resolution mapping and monitoring on selected topics and
areas according to regional problem situations and priorities. On the national and
supranational level, then, more generalized indicators could be gained by statistical evaluation of data from monitoring stations networks and low resolution land
use/land cover mapping. Thus, the system of choice would comprise a set of levelspecific indicators on the national and regional (subnational) level which, ideally,
should be functionally interlinked, i.e., driven by the same landscape processes,
respectively. The requirement of functional interlinkage of indicators on different spatial scales poses an additional problem, however, since the correlation of
landscape functions with land use/land cover structures is not yet fully understood
(de Groot, 1992). Alternatively, highly aggregated indication of landscape sustainability is feasible by long term monitoring of the landscape water and matter
balance, due to its central role in landscape functions.

3. Aggregated indication by monitoring of landscape water balance

A proven approach to gain representative indicators of landscape sustainability


is continuous measurement of the dynamics of water flow and matter transport

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in running waters, which can be taken in a highly aggregated way at the point
of tributary discharge into the receiving water, respectively. Suitable hydrological long term measurements at the point of discharge produce aggregated signals
which are determined by the natural structure of the catchment area (relief, soil,
geology, vegetation), meteorological factors (mainly precipitation), and landuse
patterns (agriculture, urban fabric).
The sustainability paradigm followed by this approach is the regional short circuit
of matter flow, together with a balanced water regime of the landscape, by which
irreversible losses are minimized. The scientific rationale of this paradigm has
been developed by W. Ripl (Ripl, 1995; Ripl and Hildmann, 1997; Gumbricht,
1996) on the basis of thermodynamic principles of landscape ecology (Odum, 1983)
and the theory of dissipative processes (Prigogine, 1988). Accordingly, landscape
sustainability is physically represented, to a maximum, by climax stage vegetation
like primeval forests and, to a minimum, by highly desertificated areas, and areas
in the primary phase of post-glacial landscape development. Maximum/minimum
stages are indicated by low/high temporal variability of run-off water flow (the
hydrograph), as well as by low/high net losses of soil constituents, such as loss of
basic cations to open waters. The sustainability state of managed landscapes can
be assumed to range between these extremes. For Germany, e.g., an analysis of
available data on matter transport in rivers showed an average of 1430 kg/ha/year
total salt losses, suggesting a natural leaching process accelerated by a factor of
50100 (Hildmann, 1999).
For deriving correlations between specific landuse patterns and hydrological
indicators, the catchment size is a critical parameter. With decreasing catchment size, hydrological changes (e.g. acceleration of precipitation run-off) may
be more specifically attributed to identifiable changes of the catchments land surface (e.g. extended surface sealing). A small catchment, however, may feature nonrepresentative landscape patterns, and produce a hydrological signal lacking in
areal representativity. On the other hand, with increasing catchment size the signal
characteristics will become more aggregated and hence more representative, but
more difficult to attribute to specific changes in land use patterns. It is therefore
proposed to establish hydrological long term measurements for a set of selected
catchments of medium stream order, with areas in the range of 10005000 km2
(Figure 1). Catchment areas in this range would be sufficiently extended to exhibit
representative landscape structures and land use patterns, but would not exceed
the capability of advanced precipitation run-off models for studying the correlation between structural changes in the catchment area, and resulting functional
changes in the hydrological regime to be measured at the catchments discharge
point. The hydrological data set should comprise parameters describing the short
and long term variability of water flow and matter load, such as mean monthly and
annual run-off, the coefficient of variation thereof, and the annual load of plant
nutrients (mainly calcium, magnesium, ammonium, sulphate, nitrate, carbonate).
The interpretation of run-off data will require additional data on precipitation
(rainfall, snow) all over the catchment area. For monitoring the plant nutrients

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Figure 1. Hierarchical system of river catchments as an areal frame of reference for a hydrological monitoring
network (schematical; representation of (sub-) catchments limited to three stream orders): With increasing
catchment size, measurements at discharge points will tend to be more representative for the total area, but
less attributable to specific landscape changes.

loads in a very aggregated way, conductivity measurements may be sufficient


(Hildmann, 1999).
In Germany, the problem of operational availability of hydrological and
hydrometeorological parameters is presently addressed by the ongoing joint
project Hydrological Atlas of Germany (HAD) of the German Federal
Environment Ministry (BMU), which is carried out under the auspices of
the International Hydrological Programme of UNESCO and the Operational
Hydrological Programme of the World Meteorological Organisation (BfG, 2000).
A long term monitoring programme based on a core set of hydrological and hydrometeorological data, measured for a set of medium size catchments, would provide
highly aggregated trend information for assessing the sustainability state of the landscape. The indication of related pressures or driving forces requires suitable GIS
data on the catchment area.
For the Rhine river catchment, a GIS specifically designed for analyzing hydrological issues is available (Horsch et al., 1998), which may serve as an example
to outline the range of data required. The Rhine GIS covers the whole Rhine river
basin and comprises 36 data layers such as a digital elevation model, hydrogeological units, land cover, precipitation, soils according to FAO nomenclature, etc. The
development of the Rhine GIS was supported in part by the EU Centre of Earth
Observation (CEO) programme. Experiences from this project clearly showed that,
for most European countries, the implementation of a catchment-related geodata
basis is not so much a problem of individual thematic data layers being physically available, but rather a problem of their homogeneous integration into a GIS
in the form of digital raster data, with the drainage divide structure as basic frame

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of reference. On the European level, this issue is presently being addressed by the
Catchment Characterization and Modelling (CCM) project of the EU Joint Research
Centre (Vogt et al., 1999; Bertolo, 2000).

4. GIS-based disaggregated indication

With appropriate geodata sets including an up-to-date land cover/use map held in
a GIS, the sustainability state of the landscape may be indicated either in terms of
area statistics or in a spatially explicit way. Spatially explicit indication in the form
of, e.g., risk or conflict maps will allow causeeffect relationships to be investigated
more specifically and hence will yield a more valuable data basis for sustainable
landscape design and planning. Prerequisite is a valid and practicable concept of
functional landscape assessment.
4.1. The concept of functional landscape assessment
Sustainable land use implies that the cropping and management system in an agricultural landscape is in balance with the self-regulating potential of the landscape
unit considered. Hence a requirement of any indication concept is sound knowledge about natural landscape resources in terms of their resilience and self regulating capacities. Landscape ecology provides a powerful and proven methodology
to derive spatially explicit sustainability assessment. Two fundamentally different
approaches exist (Forman, 1995; Forman and Godron, 1986).
The structural approach investigates patterns of landscapes in terms of their fragmentation, patch size distribution, connectivity, etc. (Blaschke and Petch, 1999)
in order to infer underlying landscape ecological processes.
The functional approach is process rather than pattern oriented and investigates
the relationship of individual geofactors in terms of predefined functions for
ecosystem maintenance and human use potential.
The latter has been pursued in a regional case study since it is highly suitable for
the disaggregation of large scale sustainability indicators and provides useful baseline information for planning and decision making. The principles of the methodology have been elaborated by a group of scientists with a background in landscape
ecological mapping (Marks et al., 1992). Function is defined as the performances
and tasks the landscape ecosystem is fulfilling. The functions are partially related
not only to the use potential regarding human activities but also to the maintenance
of the natural ecosystem itself. Examples for landscape functions are, among others,
run-off regulation, filter, buffer and transformation function of topsoil, biodiversity
carrier function, bioclimatic function. The concept is pragmatic and provides a
landscape evaluation guideline that allows the assignment of scores indicating the
degree of fulfilment of each function in a spatially explicit representation down

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to mapping scales of 1 : 25 000. The scoring is virtually semi-quantitative and not


represented by exact physical measurement units. Hence the major advantage is a
gradual differentiation of the landscape down to the local scale, which is sufficient
for most planning activities.
The scientific background for the scoring and the aggregation of data layers in the
evaluation procedures was provided by numerous field studies and laboratory experiments, e.g., in soil science, hydrology, hydrogeology, geobotany, and microclimatology (for details see Marks et al., 1992; Hase, 1992; Leser and Klink, 1988). Most
of the score values can be derived from biophysical parameters of soils, land cover,
terrain, and vegetation. Although such evaluations have been demonstrated already
in several case studies (Grabaum and Meyer, 1998; Meyer, 1997) semi-automatic
GIS models were applied in only a few cases and in no case did satellite remote sensing based products play a significant role. The following case study was focussed
on the functions related to the soil/water complex and demonstrated the feasibility of satellite remote sensing to derive relevant biophysical parameters from the
land cover and to integrate them with complementary data sources such as a digital
elevation model, field measurements, soil maps, and ground water gauge data.
4.2. Demonstration in a regional case study
The approach was tested and demonstrated in a small test area in the German federal
state of Schleswig Holstein (Schade, 1999). The EiderTreeneSorge lowlands are
part of the SchleswigFlensburg district which is situated at the northern-most state
boundary around the city of Flensburg along the coast of the Baltic Sea. It is a rural
area with distinct differences in landscape appearance and land use formed by the
boundary between the hilly area with young quarternary deposits and loess soils in
the east and the flat geest area in the western part formed by older glacial moraines,
sand plains, and less fertile soils. In this latter part the predominating land use is pasture intersected by some forest patches and relicts of natural bogs. In the former part
cereal cropping on relatively large parcels is predominant. The area of investigation
is situated at the intersection of both types of landscape. Land use/cover change in
the area is primarily driven by the effects of EU agrarian policy on land management (Roner, 2000) and extensification of land use imposed by nature conservation
programmes, e.g., in the core area of the Hohner See (Weiers et al., 2000).
Sustainability of land use has been assessed by flagging the areas with apparent
conflicts of existing land use with the self regulating capacity of the natural landscape. The key problem to be addressed here is an appropriate protection of ground
water resources vulnerable to pollutant impacts from nitrogen and heavy metals.
Although the investigation is carried out with a monotemporal, e.g., static approach
here, the data layers for time variant parameters such as land use/land cover and
groundwater table can be updated efficiently to identify long and mid term trends
in sustainability.
Individual assessment procedures were run for the functions erosion resistance
(by water and wind), ground water formation, run-off regulation, and the filter,

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buffer, and transformation capacities of soils. The filter, buffer, and transformation
function will be highlighted exemplarily with more details. It is defined as the ability
of the landscape ecosystem to protect soils and groundwater against the penetration
of pollutant compounds or to absorb and immobilise such compounds. Filtering
means the mechanical retention of suspended pollutant particles originating from
precipitation, sewage sludge, air or waste water. Buffering is defined as adsorption
or binding of pollutants or surplus nutrients by mineral or organic soil sorbents.
Transformation is related to microbiotic activity that catalyzes the conversion of
pollutants into non-contaminant or immobile chemical compounds.
There is no generic parameter to describe the filter, buffer, and transformation
function in total. Hence various subcategories are to be defined. The essential data
layers to be used are soil parameters like grain size distribution, field capacity,
content of organic matter, and pH value. The latter was measured using laboratory
analyses of more than 100 field samples and then interpolated to a raster map using a
geostatistical software package. The assessment procedure was derived from Marks
et al. (1992) which is based on a system developed by the Federal State Agency for
Soil Research of Lower Saxony to assess potential locations for waste dump sites.
Remote sensing based data sets are not basically required in this procedure, but
form a major input in the later risk assessment, which is dependent on the recent
land cover/use.
A generic flow chart of the procedure is shown in Figure 2. Primary data sources
are related to soil properties, geology, groundwater table, and human impact represented by the pattern of dwellings and traffic infrastructure. Moreover, land use
plays a key role in order to estimate pollutants impact. The respective input map
has been derived from an existing coverage of a land use and habitat inventory from
1990 that has been updated and refined by use of Landsat TM satellite imagery
(reference year 1995). Second order proxy data are derivatives from the primary
map data and provide physical and chemical parameters relevant for the buffer and
self regulating capacity. For example, the mechanical filtering properties are mainly
dependent on the soil form and infiltration properties modified by the regional climatic water balance. Another factor is the filter length, which is defined by the
vertical extent of the topsoil profile.
The assessment of filter and buffer capacity for heavy metal compounds depends
highly on the topsoil acidity expressed by the pH value, and on the content of
sorbents like iron oxides and high molecular organic compounds. These properties
were taken from the soil maps (soil texture and type) and the pH value raster map
as explained above. As the binding behaviour of metals is different for various
elements, this procedure was carried out separately for four elements (Pb, Cd, Zn,
Al). In a GIS model the scores of Pb, Cd, and Al were combined by a weighted
average technique with a lower weight for Al which will produce toxic effects only in
high concentrations. The statistical analysis of the digital map in a GIS revealed that
27% of the investigated area belong to the classes low and very low binding capacity
for heavy metals and aluminium indicating a significant risk for groundwater and
soils. Strong binding and buffering scores are only found on 5% of the area.

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Risk map
for
ground water
pollution

Figure 2. Regional sustainability assessment model focussed on the soilwater complex. The scheme outlines flow and integration of data from various geodata sources into a specific sustainability risk map
(here: groundwater pollution risk).

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Nitrogen retention is critical to avoid eutrophication of ground and surface water.


It was assessed by a simple model using climatic water balance and field capacity.
Total buffer capacity and nitrogen retention capacity are considered as independent
interim data layers indicating the vulnerability of landscape to the input of respective
pollutants. The latter has to be assessed versus the actual landuse patterns and the
associated pollution paths. Therefore a rule set has been established to assign risk
potentials to landuse properties. In a first step sources were identified for relevant
pollutants. For Pb and Cd they are:
motor vehicle and agricultural machinery traffic, by emitting Cd by abrasion
from tyres and Pb from fuel additive combustion;
agricultural practices, by applying sewage sludge as fertilizers (Pb, Cd) and using
phosphate mineral fertilizers (Cd);
gardening practices in and around villages, by application of mineral fertilizers
and pesticides (Pb, Cd);
leakages in sewage systems and cesspits in and around rural dwellings.
For nitrogen all parcels suspected to use organic manure and fertilizer have been
identified, thereof cereal and maize cropping in particular.
Then in a GIS model assumptions on the spatial distribution of the above impacts
were implemented. Diffuse inputs from rural dwellings have been taken into account
by a buffering approach supported by outline of the garden fringe around rural
households in the landuse map. As linear input sources for heavy metals major
roads with more than 3000 vehicles per day have been identified with a buffer zone
of about 30 m. Agricultural land use has been taken into account using graded weight
scores with highest for maize cropping, second for cereal cropping and lowest for
semi-natural open land and forests.
The GIS model superimposes estimated impacts versus vulnerability given by
the landscape functions and leads to a risk map outlining areas with specific sustainability risk as presented in Figure 3. Groundwater pollution here is the prevailing
risk factor in the landscape ecological setting of the area-erosion and other ecological risks could be virtually excluded through the foregoing investigations. Conflict
areas were defined as the coincidence of an assumed source area and low scores for
the groundwater protection or the nitrogen function which were flagged separately
(see Figure 3). The flagged areas indicate the risk zones where sustainable land use
is not realized in a very fine scaled spatial pattern. Although more than 92% of the
area is not affected, special emphasis has to be assigned to the indicated hot spots
in the case of landscape and infrastructure planning decisions. Cumulative effects
occur only at a few limited spots on those areas marked in red colour. No synergistic
or antagonistc effect has been regarded in the model.
The map product can be upscaled for regional sustainability indicator statistics,
where sustainability is defined as a minimum share of risk areas. Furthermore
the map product is useful as a practical planning tool. Countermeasures such as
limitations of manure and fertilizer application on vulnerable sites, avoidance of
sewage sludge input or improved gardening practices can be allocated to maximum

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Figure 3. Map representation of spatial explicit sustainability assessment in terms of region specific conflicts
between groundwater protection and existing land use.

efficiency. General land use zoning can be adapted to the vulnerability of natural
landscape in order to avoid conflicts as stated above.

5. Conclusions

The sustainability of landscapes is not only a question of land use practices, but also
of regional land use/cover distribution, so sustainability indicator systems will have
to take into account the spatial dimension. Consequently, there is a need for spatially
explicit indicators on the regional level. If those indicators are to reflect functional
relationships in the landscape, they have to be attributed not to administrative, but to
ecologically functional landscape units. Due to the complex feedback mechanisms
of the water cycle, the functional landscape unit is represented by the catchment.

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The dynamics of water flow and matter load, as measured at the catchments point of
discharge, provide meaningful, aggregated information on the sustainability status
of the catchment area, especially with respect to the functional relationships between
soil, vegetation, and water cycle.
Under scientific aspects, the validity of this approach is theoretically well
founded. For operational application in the course of sustainable spatial planning,
a better understanding of the influence of specific, spatially distributed changes in
land use/cover on the aggregated hydrological signal at the point of discharge is
required. Further research on this issue will greatly benefit from the availability of
standardized hydrological data on representative medium size catchments, as well
as integrated GIS data sets on the catchment area.
Decisions and activities aiming at sustainable rearrangement of land use/cover
patterns, however, will have to follow bottom up logic, starting from the local
scale. This is clearly illustrated by the multitude of local Agenda 21 initiatives
currently underway.The case study clearly showed the transfer of landscape ecological methodology supported by GIS models and remote sensing techniques to be
feasible for conducting sustainability evaluations on the local scale and to support
practical planning and decision making. Sustainability is assessed by delineation
of areas with non-sustainable land use. The pragmatic approach leads to high resolution spatial disaggregation, but it is obvious that the evaluation results are scale
dependent. Another important aspect is that the approach is analytic, i.e., there is
no overall integrative sustainability indicator and any sustainability evaluation is
related to a specific hypothesis and problem complex. In the case presented here it
is the question of non-appropriate land use versus the ecological vulnerability of
the ground water/soil compartment.
Present indicator systems, if made operational, will produce, in essence, figures
attributable to political or administrative units. In contrast, spatially explicit landscape evaluation will produce maps. In terms of problem awareness by the public,
rationalization of participative processes, and optimization of spatial planning, this
is an advantage. For political purposes, it will be necessary to reaggregate the information content of, e.g., a risk map into numerical indicators. Such indicators, then,
can be expected to be greatly improved in their information quality.

Acknowledgements

The work reported here is a contribution to the joint project Sustainable Global
Development Perspectives for Germany which is presently carried out by the
Helmholtz Community of German Research Centres.
We wish to thank Susan Giegerich for reading the manuscript, Prof. Heidrun
Muhle for helpful discussions and Britta Schade for implementing the GIS models
applied in the regional case study.

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