A remote sensing approach to the quantification of local to global scale social-ecological impacts of anthropogenic landscape changes

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Landuse and Landcover (LULC) is the common aspect that influences several ecological issues, environmental degradations, changes in Land Surface Temperature (LST), hydrological changes and ecosystem function at regional to global level. Research on the drivers and progressions of LULC change has been key to developing models that can project and predict future LULC extent, level and patterns under different assumptions of socioeconomic, ecological and environmental situations. Rapid and extensive urbanization and Urban Sprawl (US), propelled by rapid population growth leads to the shrinkage of productive agricultural lands, boosting mining, decrease in surface permeability and the emergence of Urban Heat Islands (UHI), and in turn, adversely affects the provision of ecosystem services. Mining for resources extraction may lead to geological and associated environmental changes due to ground movements, collision with mining cavities, and deformation of aquifers. Geological changes may continue in a reclaimed mine area, and the deformed aquifers may entail a breakdown of substrates and an increase in ground water tables, which may cause surface area inundation. Consequently, a reclaimed mine area may experience surface area collapse, i.e., subsidence, and degradation of vegetation productivity. The greater changes in LULC, US, LST and vegetation dynamics due to increasing human population not only affects inland forest and wetland, it also directly influences coastal forest lands such as mangroves, peat swamps and riparian forest and threats to ecosystem services. Mangroves provide valuable provisioning (e.g. aquaculture, fisheries, fuel, medicine, textiles), regulation (e.g. shoreline protection, erosion control, climate regulation), supporting (nutrient cycling, nursery habitat), and cultural (recreation and tourism) ecosystem services with an important impact on human well-being. However, the mangrove forest is highly threatened due to climate changes, and human activities which ignore the ecological and economic value of these habitats, contributing to its degradation. There is an increasing number of studies about mangrove distribution, changes and re-establishment activities, denoting a growing attentiveness on the value of these coastal wetland ecosystems. Most of these studies address mangrove degradation drivers at regional or local levels. However, there has not been yet enough assessment on the drivers of mangrove degradation at global level. Thus, complexity of inland and coastal landscape degradation should be addressed using multidisciplinary methodology and conditions. Therefore, this dissertation aimed to assess the impact of LULC associated with vegetation, temperature and wetland changes. To understand the relation among three different types of landscape changes associated with anthropogenic activities: Urbanization, Geological changes and Forest degradation at local to global level, we have selected thirty-three global regions. In chapter 2, We employed the Random Forest (RF) classification on Landsat imageries from 1991, 2003, and 2016, and computed six landscape metrics to delineate the extent of urban areas within a 10km suburban buffer of Chennai city, Tamilnadu, India. The level of US was then quantified using Renyi’s entropy. A land change model was subsequently used to project land cover for 2027. A 70.35% expansion in urban areas was observed mainly towards the suburban periphery of Chennai between 1991 and 2016. The Renyi’s entropy value for year 2016 was 0.9, exhibiting a two-fold level of US when compared to 1991. The spatial metrics values indicate that the existing urban areas became denser and the suburban agricultural, forests and particularly barren lands were transformed into fragmented urban settlements. The forecasted land cover for 2027 indicates a conversion of 13,670.33 ha (16.57% of the total landscape) of existing forests and agricultural lands into urban areas with an associated increase in the entropy value to 1.7, indicating a tremendous level of US. Our study provides useful metrics for urban planning authorities to address the social-ecological consequences of US and to protect ecosystem services. In chapter 3, We studied landscape dynamics in Kirchheller Heide, Germany, which experienced extensive soil movement due to longwall mining without stowing, using Landsat imageries between 2013 and 2016. A Random Forest image classification technique was applied to analyse landuse and landcover dynamics, and the growth of wetland areas was assessed using a Spectral Mixture Analysis (SMA). We also analyzed the changes in vegetation productivity using a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). We observed a 19.9% growth of wetland area within four years, with 87.2% growth in the coverage of two major waterbodies in the reclaimed mine area. NDVI values indicate that the productivity of 66.5% of vegetation of the Kirchheller Heide was degraded due to changes in ground water tables and surface flooding. Our results inform environmental management and mining reclamation authorities about the subsidence spots and priority mitigation areas from land surface and vegetation degradation in Kirchheller Heide. In chapter 4, We demonstrated the advantage of fusing imageries from multiple sensors for LULC change assessments as well as for assessing surface permeability and temperature and UHI emergence in a fast-growing city, i.e. Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, India. IRS-LISSIII and Landsat-7 ETM+ imageries were fused for 2007 and 2017, and classified using a Rotation Forest (RF) algorithm. Surface permeability and temperature were then quantified using Soil-Adjusted Vegetation Index (SAVI) and Land Surface Temperature (LST) index, respectively. Finally, we assessed the relationship between SAVI and LST for entire Tirunelveli as well as for each LULC zone, and also detected UHI emergence hot spots using a SAVI-LST combined metric. Our fused images exhibited higher classification accuracies, i.e. overall kappa coefficient values, than non-fused images. We observed an overall increase in the coverage of urban (dry, real estate plots and built-up) areas, while a decrease for vegetated (cropland and forest) areas in Tirunelveli between 2007 and 2017. The SAVI values indicated an extensive decrease in surface permeability for Tirunelveli overall and also for almost all LULC zones. The LST values showed an overall increase of surface temperature in Tirunelveli with the highest increase for urban built-up areas between 2007 and 2017. LST also exhibited a strong negative association with SAVI. South-eastern built-up areas in Tirunelveli were depicted as a potential UHI hotspot, with a caution for the Western riparian zone for UHI emergence in 2017. Our results provide important metrics for surface permeability, temperature and UHI monitoring, and inform urban and zonal planning authorities about the advantages of satellite image fusion. In chapter 5, We identified mangrove degradation drivers at regional and global levels resulted from decades of research data (from 1981 to present) of climate variations (seal-level rising, storms, precipitation, extremely high water events and temperature), and human activities (pollution, wood extraction, aquaculture, agriculture and urban expansion). This information can be useful for future research on mangroves, and to help delineating global planning strategies which consider the correct ecological and economic value of mangroves protecting them from further loss.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • NOVA Information Management School (NOVA IMS)
  • Cabral, Pedro, Supervisor
  • Bhowmik, Avit Kumar, Supervisor, External person
Award date17 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2019


  • Anthropogenic
  • Activities
  • Urban landscape
  • Cities
  • Fast growing cities


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