Program Priorities

The LCLUC program priorities are aligned with the overarching goals and priorities of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division. As a dynamic Research and Analysis element, each call for proposals has a different emphasis but there are some common themes which recur in the LCLUC program. The combination of remotely sensed monitoring and the social science aspect of land use change, sometimes referred to as the ‘human dimension’ is an example. The program has a global reach but with a regional focus. The program focuses on priority regions where land use change is dynamic and has the biggest impact. Current program priorities include the following:

Monitoring Land Cover and Land Use Change

One of the stated program goals is to develop the capability for periodic inventory of land cover and land use from space. This goal has been largely achieved and demonstrated at global to national scales, although the transition to operational uptake remains patchy. The approach to quantifying land cover change continues to be improved through our funded research as new instruments come on-line. The increase in the frequency of moderate resolution (<30m) data and the availability of high performance computing is now enabling continuous monitoring of land cover change. The increase in the availability of fine resolution (<5m) data is enabling a better characterization of certain land use practices. 

Method Development

With the increase in free and open sharing of satellite data, particularly through the European Copernicus Program, the LCLUC program is interested in new methods to combine data from different sensors in analysis of land cover and land use change. Data fusion methods have been sought in the framework of the Multi-source Land Imaging (MuSLI) initiative. Such research is laying a foundation for an international constellation of moderate resolution sensors. Similarly, research is encouraged in the combined use of moderate and fine spatial resolution data (1m-3m).

The LCLUC Program management endeavors to coordinate with algorithm development and testing in other parts of the NASA Earth Science Program, for example by the NASA Instrument Science Teams or within the MEaSUREs program. Of particular relevance to this program are the algorithms used to generate higher order products from the systematic MODIS/VIIRS and Landsat observations, as LCLUC scientists often use the land cover and change related products from these sensors. The program makes use of the global archives of coarse and moderate resolution satellite data, acquired over the last twenty or more years for addressing land-cover and land-use change. With the technical problems encountered by the Landsat 7 instrument in 2003 and prior to the launch of Landsat 8, emphasis was given to utilizing data from other U.S. and international moderate resolution sensors (e.g. ASTER, EO1, CBERS, IRS and SPOT). With the launch of the Copernicus Program in Europe the availability of coarse and moderate resolution data expanded considerably. Attention is being given to research on fusion and inter-use of these data products. Within the LCLUC Program, development of new remote sensing methods is commonly encouraged in the context of addressing an LCLUC science question. With respect to technique development, the LCLUC program continues to be interested in technical research oriented towards automated land classification and change detection at regional to global scales, parameterization or validation of land use models using remotely sensed data and data services to improve the state of the art with respect to documenting land-cover and land-use change.

The Impacts of Land Use Change

The LCLUC program has a priority to develop the scientific understanding of the consequences of land cover or land use changes, for example on biogeochemical cycles (e.g. carbon and nitrogen), the hydrological cycle or human livelihoods. Recently such changes are being studied in the context of sustainability. In some regions there is an expansion of agriculture into more natural areas. In other regions there is an intensification of land use for food production. The program is interested in understanding impacts of extensification and the consequences of intensified management of agricultural, agroforestry, and grazing systems, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. We are also interested in measuring the longer-term degradation of forested and rangeland ecosystems that occurs. LCLUC researchers are encouraged to use both remote sensing and in-situ data, integrated with geographic information system (GIS) techniques, in a manner which enables improved assessments of the impacts of land cover and land use change, the vulnerability of social systems and ecosystems, and the options for more sustainable land uses.

Modeling and Implications

It is important to develop, parameterize, and evaluate models that couple the biogeochemical and biophysical dynamics of the land surface and atmosphere. The program is interested in the links to other process studies in hydrometeorology, tropospheric chemistry, and aerosol radiative forcing to gain a better understanding of the relationship between changes in land cover, the processes that drive those changes, and biogeochemical and physical changes in the Earth's atmosphere and climate system. In addition to incorporating actual land cover and land cover change in ecosystem process models, it is important to develop models of land use change. Modeling coupled human natural systems is an important aspect of land use research. Prediction of land use change based on an understanding of the processes involved will provide an important tool for framing land management questions. Ultimately, it will be the ability to model systems undergoing land-use change that will provide tools for both scientists and decision-makers to evaluate the potential consequences of different management practices, and to assess the consequences of policies that affect land cover conversion.

New Sensing Systems

The new NASA missions are driven by decadal surveys. The LCLUC program is interested in the development of new techniques that prepare for the use of the new and soon-to-be-available remotely sensed data. For example, the program is interested in LCLUC science applications of microwave systems (e.g. using the European Sentinel 1 or Canadian Radarsat Constellation) in support of the upcoming NISAR mission.

Transitioning Research To The Operational Domain

An objective of the research is to provide the scientific understanding and observational techniques required for improved management of land resources. The program is interested in seeing the science developed inform land management and related policies.  To this end, he LCLUC program has an established relationship with the NASA Applied Sciences Program, for example with SERVIR on training and capacity building, the NASA HARVEST program on agricultural land use change. The objective of these partnerships is to demonstrate the societal relevance of LCLUC research through collaboration with operational agencies and organizations in a series of operational pilot projects. At the international level the LCLUC Program has a long-standing relationship with the Global Observation of Forest Cover Global Observation of Landuse Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) Program which started as an operational pilot project for the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) but now serves as an interface to the end-user community in the areas of forest management, REDD+ and wildfire management. The GOFC GOLD Program has a number of regional networks providing for a for scientists and resource managers to share knowledge and experience. The LCLUC program is a strong supporter of the GOFC GOLD regional networks and actively participates in regional meetings, making a connection between LCLUC scientists and regional experts. The LCLUC is also actively partnering with GEO in the area of agricultural land use change through the GEOGLAM Program.

Priority Regions For LCLUC Research

Since the inception of the program we have funded research investigations around the World. The regional locations of the funded research can be seen under the Projects section of the web site. In the past we have had regional foci on:

  • The Amazon Basin: where the LCLUC program joined in a solicitation with the NASA Terrestrial Ecology Program's LBA activity as part of the Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA).
  • Northern Eurasia: where the LCLUC Program was a major partner in the Northern Eurasia Earth Science Partnership Initiative(NEESPI). In recent years, NEESPI has transitioned to become the Northern Eurasia Future Initiative (NEFI) which was designed as a regional component of ICSU Future Earth.
  • Monsoon Asia: where the LCLUC program partnered with the Monsoon Asia Integrated Research for Sustainability (MAIRS) Program, which has transitioned into MAIRS-FE, as a regional component of ICSU Future Earth. 

In the past few years, the LCLUC Program has given a major focus on South and Southeast Asia and has been a major player in developing the South and southeast Asia Research Initiative (SARI). We have focused recent calls on a number of other regions where land cover land use change is dynamic and having an impact e.g. Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Mediterranean and South America, taking the opportunity to link to the associated GOFC GOLD Regional Networks.

In all our regional funded activities, proposals that demonstrate strong linkages to in-country scientists and direct links to existing regional projects receive priority.