The Science of LCLUC

Key Science Questions

The LCLUC research program addresses the following key land-use science questions:

  • Where are land-cover and land-use changing, what is the extent and over what time scale and how do the changes vary from year to year? (Measurement, Variability)
  • What changes are occurring in global land-cover and land-use, and what are their causes? (Forcing)
  • What are the impacts of climate variability and changes on LCLUC and what is the potential feedback? (Impacts, Responses)
  • What are the consequences of changing land-use activities for ecosystems and how do they respond to and affect global environmental change? (Consequences, Responses, Adaptation)
  • What are the consequences of land-cover and land-use change for human societies and the sustainability of ecosystems? (Consequences, Vulnerability, Resilience)
  • How will land-cover change on time scales from years to centuries? (Modeling, Prediction)
  • What are the projected changes in land-cover and their potential impacts? (Modeling, Prediction)

LCLUC Science Components

A major focus of LCLUC research is on quantifying the location, extent and variability of change, the causes or forcing factors of change, for example, climatic, ecological and socioeconomic drivers, the processes of change and the responses and consequences of change. NASA LCLUC research projects use a combination of space observations, in situ measurements, process studies and numerical modelling. As an interdisciplinary research program, LCLUC fosters strong partnerships between physical and social scientists to develop the integrated science necessary to understand why and how patterns of land-use and land-cover are changing, how they will change in the future and the implications of these changes. LCLUC research crosscuts several other research areas, e.g. climate change and variability, water cycle, carbon cycle, ecosystems and biodiversity, and human contributions and responses to environmental change.

Variability: The current spatial pattern of land-cover is a result of previous and current land-use. Quantifying the location, extent and trends of recent land-cover and land-use change is an important component of land-change science. Satellite systems often provide the only means to inventory land-cover and monitor land-cover change in a timely fashion. NASA has developed procedures for wall-to-wall mapping of land-cover and spatially explicit monitoring of land-cover change. Systematic long-term observations of land-cover are essential to enable scientists to quantify the rates of change and their variability over time. Establishing consistent long-term data records of land-cover is an important objective for the LCLUC Program.

Forcing: To make a projection of how land-cover will change in the future and to be able to better manage land-use it is important to understand the drivers of change. These include the local and proximate physical, socioeconomic and demographic causes of change, as well as the broader global and regional climatic or macroeconomic forces of change. Quantifying processes of land-use change is undertaken by combining in-situ measurements and ground surveys with satellite data. This is often done through regional case studies.

Social and Economic Sciences in the NASA LCLUC program

The NASA LCLUC program is aimed at using satellite observations to improve our understanding of land-cover and land-use change as an important component of global and climate change. The LCLUC program includes studies that quantify land-cover and land-use changes; examine their impact on the environment, climate, and society; or model future scenarios of land-cover and land-use change and its various impacts and feedbacks. Humans play an important role in modifying land cover and are instrumental in land-use change. To understand the process of land-use change it is, therefore, important to address its human dimensions.

Social and economic science research plays an important role in the NASA LCLUC program and includes analyses of the impacts of changes in human behavior at various levels on land use, studies of the resultant impacts of land-use change on society, or how the social and economic aspects of land-use systems adapt to climate change.

The LCLUC program aims for a meaningful integration of social and economic science theories, perspectives, methods, and data (quantitative and/or qualitative) with innovative analyses of land system dynamics in its research. The intention is to fully integrate social and economic sciences into the land use research questions, data used, and analytical approaches in order to couple remote sensing observations of land-cover with research on the human dimensions of land-use change.