Marian Vittek 1,*, Andreas Brink 1, Francois Donnay 2, Dario Simonetti 3 and Baudouin Desclé e 1
Land cover change monitoring
West Africa; land cover change; Landsat; sampling; change detection
Monitoring land cover changes from the 1970s in West Africa is important for assessing the dynamics between land cover types and understanding the anthropogenic impact during this period. Given the lack of historical land cover maps over such a large area, Landsat data is a reliable and consistent source of information on land cover dynamics from the 1970s. This study examines land cover changes occurring between 1975 and 1990 in West Africa using a systematic sample of satellite imagery. The primary data sources for the land cover classification were Landsat Multispectral Scanner (MSS) for 1975 and Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) for the 1990 period. Dedicated selection of the appropriate image data for land cover change monitoring was performed for the year 1975. Based on this selected dataset, the land cover analysis is based on a systematic sample of 220 suitable Landsat image extracts (out of 246) of 20 km × 20 km at each one degree latitude/longitude intersection. Object-based classification, originally dedicated for Landsat TM land cover change monitoring and adapted for MSS, was used to produce land cover change information for four different land cover classes: dense tree cover, tree cover mosaic, other wooded land and other vegetation cover. Our results reveal that in 1975 about 6% of West Africa was covered by dense tree cover complemented with 12% of tree cover mosaic. Almost half of the area was covered by other wooded land and the remaining 32% was represented by other vegetation cover. Over the 1975–1990 period, the net annual change rate of dense tree cover was estimated at −0.95%, at −0.37% for the other wooded land and very low for tree cover mosaic (−0.05%). On the other side, other vegetation cover increased annually by 0.70%, most probably due to the expansion of agricultural areas. This study demonstrates the potential of Landsat MSS and TM data for large scale land cover change assessment in West Africa and highlights the importance of consistent and systematic data processing methods with targeted image acquisition procedures for long-term monitoring.