US Geological Survey


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Remote Sensing of Environment 122 (2012) 92–105; doi:10.1016/j.rse.2011.06.027


The focus of the study was to assess gradual changes occurring throughout a range of natural ecosystems using decadal Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) time series data. Time series data stacks were generated for four study areas: (1) a four scene area dominated by forest and rangeland ecosystems in the southwestern United States, (2) a sagebrush-dominated rangeland in Wyoming, (3) woodland adjacent to prairie in northwestern Nebraska, and (4) a forested area in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Through analyses of time series data, we found evidence of gradual systematic change in many of the natural vegetation communities in all four areas. Many of the conifer forests in the southwestern US are showing declines related to insects and drought, but very few are showing evidence of improving conditions or increased greenness. Sagebrush communities are showing decreases in greenness related to fire, mining, and probably drought, but very few of these communities are showing evidence of increased greenness or improving conditions. In Nebraska, forest communities are showing local expansion and increased canopy densification in the prairie–woodland interface, and in the White Mountains high elevation understory conifers are showing range increases towards lower elevations. The trends detected are not obvious through casual inspection of the Landsat images. Analyses of time series data using many scenes and covering multiple years are required in order to develop better impressions and representations of the changing ecosystem patterns and trends that are occurring. The approach described in this paper demonstrates that Landsat time series data can be used operationally for assessing gradual ecosystem change across large areas. Local knowledge and available ancillary data are required in order to fully understand the nature of these trends.