Characterization of change in tree cover state and condition over the conterminous United States

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Variability in the effects of disturbances and extreme climate events can lead to changes in tree cover over time, including partial or complete loss, with diverse ecological consequences. It is therefore critical to identify in space and time the change processes that lead to tree cover change. Studies of change are often hampered by the lack of data capable of consistently detecting different types of change. Using the Landsat satellite record to create a long time-series of land cover and land cover change, the U.S. Geological Survey Land Change Monitoring Assessment and Projection (LCMAP) project has made an annual time series of land cover across the conterminous United States for the period 1985 to 2018. Multiple LCMAP products analyzed together with map validation reference plots provide a robust basis for understanding tree cover change. In LCMAP (Collection 1.2), annual change detection is based on harmonic model breaks calculated at each Landsat pixel from the Continuous Change Detection and Classification (CCDC) algorithm. The results showed that the majority of CCDC harmonic model breaks (signifying change) indicated partial tree cover loss (associated with management practices such as tree cover thinning) as compared to complete tree cover loss (associated with practices like clearcut harvest or fire disturbance). Substantially fewer occurrences of complete tree cover loss were associated with change in land cover state. The area of annual tree cover change increased after the late 1990s and stayed high for the rest of the study period. The reference data showed that tree harvest dominated across the conterminous United States. The majority of tree cover change occurred in evergreen forests. Large estimates of disturbance-related tree cover change indicated that tree cover loss may have previously been underreported due to omission of partial tree cover loss in prior studies. This has considerable implications for forest carbon accounting along with tracking ecosystem goods and services.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Characterization of change in tree cover state and condition over the conterminous United States
Series title Forests
DOI 10.3390/f15030470
Volume 15
Issue 3
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher MDPI
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
Description 470, 15 p.
Country United States
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