Monitoring cropland abandonment with Landsat time series
journal contributionposted on 2022-12-03, 03:18 authored by He Yin, Amintas Brandão Jr, Johanna Buchner, David Helmers, Benjamin G. Iuliano, Niwaeli KimamboNiwaeli Kimambo, Katarzyna E. Lewińska, Elena Razenkova, Afag Rizayeva, Natalia Rogova, Seth A. Spawn, Yanhua Xie, Volker C. Radeloff
Cropland abandonment is a widespread land-use change, but it is difficult to monitor with remote sensing because it is often spatially dispersed, easily confused with spectrally similar land-use classes such as grasslands and fallow fields, and because post-agricultural succession can take different forms in different biomes. Due to these difficulties, prior assessments of cropland abandonment have largely been limited in resolution, extent, or both. However, cropland abandonment has wide-reaching consequences for the environment, food production, and rural livelihoods, which is why new approaches to monitor long-term cropland abandonment in different biomes accurately are needed. Our goals were to 1) develop a new approach to map the extent and the timing of abandoned cropland using the entire Landsat time series, and 2) test this approach in 14 study regions across the globe that capture a wide range of environmental conditions as well as the three major causes of abandonment, i.e., social, economic, and environmental factors. Our approach was based on annual maps of active cropland and non-cropland areas using Landsat summary metrics for each year from 1987 to 2017. We streamlined per-pixel classifications by generating multi-year training data that can be used for annual classification. Based on the annual classifications, we analyzed land-use trajectories of each pixel in order to distinguish abandoned cropland, stable cropland, non-cropland, and fallow fields. In most study regions, our new approach separated abandoned cropland accurately from stable cropland and other classes. The classification accuracy for abandonment was highest in regions with industrialized agriculture (area-adjusted F1 score for Mato Grosso in Brazil: 0.8; Volgograd in Russia: 0.6), and drylands (e.g., Shaanxi in China, Nebraska in the U.S.: 0.5) where fields were large or spectrally distinct from non-cropland. Abandonment of subsistence agriculture with small field sizes (e.g., Nepal: 0.1) or highly variable climate (e.g., Sardinia in Italy: 0.2) was not accurately mapped. Cropland abandonment occurred in all study regions but was especially prominent in developing countries and formerly socialist states. In summary, we present here an approach for monitoring cropland abandonment with Landsat imagery, which can be applied across diverse biomes and may thereby improve the understanding of the drivers and consequences of this important land-use change process.