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The Po Plain Experiment (POPLEX) Field Campaign
Effects of urban sprawl on environmental matrices in northern Italy

The "Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra" of "Universitàegli Studi di Milano," together with the "NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory" under the InterDisciplinary Science (IDS) research on Mega Urban Changes and Impacts supported by the NASA Land-Cover / Land-Use Change (LCLUC) Program, in collaboration with "Universitàegli Studi di Padova", "Universitàegli Studi Alma Mater di Bologna" and "University of Southampton", under the Patronage of Italian Chapter of International Association of Hydrogeologists, organize a field campaign, including science-team working meetings in conjunction with field surveys and measurements in the Po Plain territory in Northern Italy to investigate effects of urban sprawl on environmental matrices in the area.

The Environmental European Agency reports that the urban-area expansion rate in several eastern and western European countries had increased by over three times with respect to the growth rate of their population. At present, urban sprawl can be considered as one of the most significant land-use transformation affecting Europe. At the same time, it is the one causing major effects on the different environmental matrices as well as on multiple social and economic aspects. Northern Italy is one of the most populated areas in Europe and most of its cities registered an urban sprawl pattern in the 2000s. From this point of view, northern Italy represents a pertinent "pilot area" to identify environmental impacts due to urban sprawl. The focus of the campaign will be to conduct the most effective investigation, by closely coordinating the field campaign through interactive technical discussion meetings of the science team for each zone of the Po Plain. This is to identify and understand the influence of urban characteristics and its change on important environmental topics such as: (a) groundwater resources and management, (b) air quality assessment, and (c) temperature assessment.

It is well recognized in general that groundwater contamination, air pollution and air temperature are impacted by land use type and variation. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to have a temporally and spatially consistent dataset delineating the urban extension through time in order to investigate the potential relationships between the change in urban area extent and the change in groundwater contamination, air pollution and air temperature. Even in the data-rich European and North American countries, such information are collected only at fixed period of time and are often either/both spatially or/and temporally limited and inconsistent.

Innovative processing and use of satellite data have allowed a successful development of a spatially and temporally consistent dataset delineating urban extension and thus to monitor the annual degree of urban changes, in each pixel of a 1-km grid, for the decade of 2000s. Moreover, the massive amount of high-quality satellite data products enables quantitative evaluations of environmental changes over large areas in a time and space continuum without gaps. The advantage of the Po Plain area is that extended monitoring networks of groundwater and air quality as well as meteorological observations are available and can be jointly used with satellite data to validate and improve their reliability. All these data can be effectively used to estimate the degree of urbanization also in developed areas and can serve as crucial inputs to investigate the relationship between land use change and (a) groundwater contamination (coming from field monitoring), (b) air pollution, and (c) air and surface temperature (coming from field monitoring and satellite data).

The campaign will consist of field excursions covering the eastern, southern, western and central zones of the Po plain, together with a series of technical working meetings in the three Italian Universities organizing and participating in POPLEX.

During field excursions, several extended areas, selected by the science team, will be investigated at a large scale through satellite data and the collection of real time measurements under various land use conditions, while small-scale focused areas will be studied in more detail through field site visits to determine specific issues related to urban sprawl and urban changes in general.

During POPLEX, each zone will be analyzed and discussed with a focus on the use of satellite data to delineate urban changes in the territory and with specific examples of urban sprawl effects on the environment.

Furthermore, we plan to extend the field campaign beyond the Po Plain to include Florence in Tuscany, Italy, so that POPLEX results can be cross-verified and extended to different regions.