The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Land Cover Trends project is focused on understanding the rates, trends, causes, and consequences of contemporary U.S. land-cover change. The objectives of the study are to: (1) to develop a comprehensive methodology for using sampling and change analysis techniques and Landsat Multispectral Scanner (MSS), Thematic Mapper (TM), and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) data to measure regional land-cover change across the United States; (2) to characterize the types, rates, and temporal variability of change for a 30-year period; (3) to document regional driving forces and consequences of change; and (4) to prepare a national synthesis of land-cover change (Loveland and others, 1999).
The 1999 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Level III ecoregions derived from Omernik (1987) provide the geographic framework for the geospatial data collected between 1973 and 2000. The 27-year study period was divided into five temporal periods: 1973-1980, 1980-1986, 1986-1992, 1992-2000, and 1973-2000, and the data are evaluated using a modified Anderson Land Use Land Cover Classification System (Anderson and others, 1976) for image interpretation.
The rates of land-cover change are estimated using a stratified, random sampling of 10-kilometer (km) by 10-km blocks allocated within each ecoregion. For each sample block, satellite images are used to interpret land-cover change for the five time periods previously mentioned. Additionally, historic aerial photographs from similar time frames and other ancillary data, such as census statistics and published literature, are used. The sample block data are then incorporated into statistical analyses to generate an overall change matrix for the ecoregion.
Field data of the sample blocks include direct measurements of land cover, particularly ground-survey data collected for training and validation of image classifications (Loveland and others, 2002). The field experience allows for additional observations of the character and condition of the landscape, assistance in sample block interpretation, ground truthing of Landsat imagery, and determination of the driving forces of change identified in an ecoregion.