Large-scale, multi-temporal remote sensing of palaeo-river networks: A case study from Northwest India and its implications for the indus civilisation

17 Jan 2018

© 2018 by the authors. Remote sensing has considerable potential to contribute to the identification and reconstruction of lost hydrological systems and networks. Remote sensing-based reconstructions of palaeo-river networks have commonly employed single or limited time-span imagery, which limits their capacity to identify features in complex and varied landscape contexts. This paper presents a seasonal multi-temporal approach to the detection of palaeo-rivers over large areas based on long-term vegetation dynamics and spectral decomposition techniques. Twenty-eight years of Landsat 5 data, a total of 1711 multi-spectral images, have been bulk processed using Google Earth Engine. © Code Editor and cloud computing infrastructure. The use of multi-temporal data has allowed us to overcome seasonal cultivation patterns and long-term visibility issues related to recent crop selection, extensive irrigation and land-use patterns. The application of this approach on the Sutlej-Yamuna interfluve (northwest India), a core area for the Bronze Age Indus Civilisation, has enabled the reconstruction of an unsuspectedly complex palaeo-river network comprising more than 8000 km of palaeo-channels. It has also enabled the definition of the morphology of these relict courses, which provides insights into the environmental conditions in which they operated. These new data will contribute to a better understanding of the settlement distribution and environmental settings in which this, often considered riverine, civilisation operated.