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Fact Sheet 2013–3010

Consequences of Land Use and Land Cover Change

By E. Terrence Slonecker, Christopher Barnes, Krista Karstensen, Lesley E. Milheim, and Coral M. Roig-Silva

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The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Climate and Land Use Change Mission Area is one of seven USGS mission areas that focuses on making substantial scientific "…contributions to understanding how Earth systems interact, respond to, and cause global change". Using satellite and other remotely sensed data, USGS scientists monitor patterns of land cover change over space and time at regional, national, and global scales. These data are analyzed to understand the causes and consequences of changing land cover, such as economic impacts, effects on water quality and availability, the spread of invasive species, habitats and biodiversity, carbon fluctuations, and climate variability.

USGS scientists are among the leaders in the study of land cover, which is a term that generally refers to the vegetation and artificial structures that cover the land surface. Examples of land cover include forests, grasslands, wetlands, water, crops, and buildings. Land use involves human activities that take place on the land. For example, "grass" is a land cover, whereas pasture and recreational parks are land uses that produce a cover of grass.

First posted March 11, 2013

For additional information contact:
Director, Eastern Geographic Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
521 National Center
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192

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Suggested citation:

Slonecker, E.T., Barnes Christopher, Karstensen, Krista, Milheim, L.E., and Roig-Silva, C.M., 2013, Consequences of land use and land cover change: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2013–3010, 4 p., available only at

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