Understanding Land Cover Change Using a Harmonized Classification System in the Himalaya (2010)

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Land cover assessment and monitoring of land cover dynamics are important to understand social and ecological processes in mountain protected areas. However, variations in the use of legends and classification systems sometimes pose challenges. The landscape of Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone (SNPBZ) has seen many changes in the past few decades. Mapping of land cover in SNPBZ was carried out to fill gaps in basic databases for the area. A review of past land cover initiatives and existing data revealed differences in methodologies and definitions that made them incompatible for cross-region applications. For the present study, a legend was developed using the standard Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) methodology developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, a comprehensive and standardized a priori classification system designed for mapping exercises independent of scales or means. The changes in land cover were analyzed using Landsat Thematic Mapper, Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus, and Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer images from 1992 to 2006. Land cover maps were generated using object-based image analysis supplemented by ancillary information. Extensive fieldwork was carried out for ground truthing and validation. The use of LCCS was instrumental in bringing general understanding of the classification systems and helping to gain greater clarity and accuracy in the results. About 70 of the SNPBZ area is covered by snow and ice, glaciers, bare rocks, and bare soil. Altitude and its influence on climatic conditions have dominated the distribution pattern of vegetation in SNPBZ. The analysis showed that forest is being converted into shrub at elevations between 3000 and 4000 m, while shrub is decreasing between 4000 and 5000 m. A major decrease in snow cover is seen above 5000 m. Harmonization of the classification system helped to gain more reliable information on changes, as comparisons were made between the classes with consistent definitions.
Year: 2010
Language: English
In: mred Mountain Research and Development, 30 (2): 143-156 p.

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