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Global land cover trajectories and transitions

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
Article number12814
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>17/06/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Scientific Reports
Volume11
Number of pages16
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Global land cover (LC) changes threaten sustainability and yet we lack a comprehensive understanding of the gains and losses of LC types, including the magnitudes, locations and timings of transitions. We used a novel, fine-resolution and temporally consistent satellite-derived dataset covering the entire Earth annually from 1992 to 2018 to quantify LC changes across a range of scales. At global and continental scales, the observed trajectories of change for most LC types were fairly smooth and consistent in direction through time. We show these observed trajectories in the context of error margins produced by extrapolating previously published accuracy metrics associated with the LC dataset. For many LC classes the observed changes were found to be within the error margins. However, an important exception was the increase in urban land, which was consistently larger than the error margins, and for which the LC transition was unidirectional. An advantage of analysing the global, fine spatial resolution LC time-series dataset is the ability to identify where and when LC changes have taken place on the Earth. We present LC change maps and trajectories that identify locations with high dynamism, and which pose significant sustainability challenges. We focused on forest loss and urban growth at the national scale, identifying the top 10 countries with the largest percentages of forest loss and urban growth globally. Crucially, we found that most of these ‘worst-case’ countries have stabilized their forest losses, although urban expansion was monotonic in all cases. These findings provide crucial information to support progress towards the UN’s SDGs.