Using the Landsat data archive to assess long-term regional forest dynamics assessment in Eastern Europe, 1985-2012
- 1Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
- 2Michigan Tech Research Institute, Ann Arbor, MI 48105, USA
- 3SILVIS Lab, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
Keywords: Landsat archive, forest cover, forest cover dynamics, Eastern Europe, logging, wildfire
Abstract. Dramatic political and economic changes in Eastern European countries following the dissolution of the “Eastern Bloc” and the collapse of the Soviet Union greatly affected land-cover and land-use trends. In particular, changes in forest cover dynamics may be attributed to the collapse of the planned economy, agricultural land abandonment, economy liberalization, and market conditions. However, changes in forest cover are hard to quantify given inconsistent forest statistics collected by different countries over the last 30 years. The objective of our research was to consistently quantify forest cover change across Eastern Europe from 1985 until 2012 using the complete Landsat data archive. We developed an algorithm for processing imagery from different Landsat platforms and sensors (TM and ETM+), aggregating these images into a common set of multi-temporal metrics, and mapping annual gross forest cover loss and decadal gross forest cover gain. Our results show that forest cover area increased from 1985 to 2012 by 4.7% across the region. Average annual gross forest cover loss was 0.41% of total forest cover area, with a statistically significant increase from 1985 to 2012. Most forest disturbance recovered fast, with only 12% of the areas of forest loss prior to 1995 not being recovered by 2012. Timber harvesting was the main cause of forest loss. Logging area declined after the collapse of socialism in the late 1980s, increased in the early 2000s, and decreased in most countries after 2007 due to the global economic crisis. By 2012, Central and Baltic Eastern European countries showed higher logging rates compared to their Western neighbours. Comparing our results with official forest cover and change estimates showed agreement in total forest area for year 2010, but with substantial disagreement between Landsat-based and official net forest cover area change. Landsat-based logging areas exhibit strong relationship with reported roundwood production at national scale. Our results allow national and sub-national level analysis of forest cover extent, change, and logging intensity and are available on-line as a baseline for further analyses of forest dynamics and its drivers.