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Rates, Causes, and Consequences of Land Use and Land Cover Change

A typical pattern of natural gas development in northwestern Pennsylvania.
A typical pattern of natural gas development in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The dictionary defines consequences as "...something produced by a cause or necessarily following from a set of conditions". For Climate and Land Use research, these conditions are often represented by the land surface conditions and the changes that are the result of both natural and anthropogenic forces that cause alterations to the landscape. Much of the previous USGS work in the land cover research has involved mapping and quantifying land use and land cover (LULC), and land use and land cover change (LULCC) through time and identifying, the patterns and drivers of this change.

Consequences are the significant effects of LULCC and represent an evolution in USGS geographic science related to global change. Not simply the summary statistics of gain or loss of a specific land cover type in a specific area, consequences represent another level of understanding of the operation and interactions of a combined human and biotic system.

Consequences can be subtle or severe but may not be obvious, intuitive or readily apparent. But they do represent effects that have important scientific, societal or policy relevance. For example, current research will focus on mapping spatially explicit data on the landscape disturbance related to shale gas activities in the Mid Atlantic region. High resolution imagery from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) and USGS sources will be evaluated to compile the patterns and effects of land use and land cover change related to the landscape activities of Marcellus Shale development of natural gas resources.

An example of forest fragmentation in Bradford County, Pennsylvania as a result of landscape disturbance from natural gas activities.
An example of forest fragmentation in Bradford County, Pennsylvania as a result of
landscape disturbance from natural gas activities.

Understanding Land Use and Land Cover Change (LULCC) is central to the mission of the USGS as well as the R&D, Geographic Analysis and Monitoring (GAM) and Land Remote Sensing (LRS) Programs. LULCC not only affects the pattern, process, form and functioning of ecosystems but also impacts their ability to provide essential ecological goods and services, which in turn affects the economic, public health, and social benefits that these ecosystems provide. The consequences of change are both direct and indirect, and also are manifested at a range of spatial and temporal scales. One of the great challenges ahead of modern science is to understand and calibrate the effects of land use and land cover change, and the complex interaction between human and biotic systems, at a variety of natural, geographic and political scales. Improving understanding and knowledge of the consequences of land use and land cover change is a critically important to addressing the current major science issues relating to change on the land surface.

Over several decades, a variety of USGS Programs have developed land use, land cover and change related data and while the natural focus of many of these programs was the technical aspects of production, we have now entered a time when the focus of an earth-science agency must necessarily shift to the utilization of that data to address policy relevant science issues facing USGS and the Nation.

Projects conducting research on Rates, Causes, and Consequences of Land-Use and Land-Cover Change:

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