Global land use extent and dispersion within natural land cover using Landsat data

Matthew C. Hansen, Peter V. Potapov, Amy H. Pickens, Alexandra Tyukavina, Andres Hernandez-Serna, Viviana Zalles, Svetlana Turubanova, Indrani Kommareddy, Steve V. Stehman, Xiao Peng Song, Anil Kommareddy

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34 Scopus citations


The conversion of natural land cover into human-dominated land use systems has significant impacts on the environment. Global mapping and monitoring of human-dominated land use extent via satellites provides an empirical basis for assessing land use pressures. Here, we present a novel 2019 global land cover, land use, and ecozone map derived from Landsat satellite imagery and topographical data using derived image feature spaces and algorithms suited per theme. From the map, we estimate the spatial extent and dispersion of land use disaggregated by climate domain and ecozone, where dispersion is the mean distance of land use to all land within a subregion. We find that percent of area under land use and distance to land use follow a power law that depicts an increasingly random spatial distribution of land use as it extends across lands of comparable development potential. For highly developed climate/ecozones, such as temperate and sub-tropical terra firma vegetation on low slopes, area under land use is contiguous and remnant natural land cover have low areal extent and high fragmentation. The tropics generally have the greatest potential for land use expansion, particularly in South America. An exception is Asian humid tropical terra firma vegetated lowland, which has land use intensities comparable to that of temperate breadbaskets such as the United States' corn belt. Wetland extent is inversely proportional to land use extent within climate domains, indicating historical wetland loss for temperate, sub-tropical, and dry tropical biomes. Results highlight the need for planning efforts to preserve natural systems and associated ecosystem services. The demonstrated methods will be implemented operationally in quantifying global land change, enabling a monitoring framework for systematic assessments of the appropriation and restoration of natural land cover.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034050
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • global change
  • land cover and land use
  • remote sensing


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