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Conterminous United States land cover change patterns 2001–2016 from the 2016 National Land Cover Database

Formally Refereed
Authors: Collin Homer, Jon Dewitz, Suming Jin, George Xian, Catherine Costello, Patrick Danielson, Leila Gass, Michelle Funk, James Wickham, Stephen Stehman, Roger Auch, Kurt Riitters
Year: 2020
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing


The 2016 National Land Cover Database (NLCD) product suite (available on, includes Landsatbased, 30 m resolution products over the conterminous (CONUS) United States (U.S.) for land cover, urban imperviousness, and tree, shrub, herbaceous and bare ground fractional percentages. The release of NLCD 2016 provides important new information on land change patterns across CONUS from 2001 to 2016. For land cover, seven epochs were concurrently generated for years 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2016. Products reveal that land cover change is significant across most land cover classes and time periods. The land cover product was validated using existing reference data from the legacy NLCD 2011 accuracy assessment, applied to the 2011 epoch of the NLCD 2016 product line. The legacy and new NLCD 2011 overall accuracies were 82% and 83%, respectively, (standard error (SE) was 0.5%), demonstrating a small but significant increase in overall accuracy. Between 2001 and 2016, the CONUS landscape experienced significant change, with almost 8% of the landscape having experienced a land cover change at least once during this period. Nearly 50% of that change involves forest, driven by change agents of harvest, fire, disease and pests that resulted in an overall forest decline, including increasing fragmentation and loss of interior forest. Agricultural change represented 15.9% of the change, with total agricultural spatial extent showing only a slight increase of 4778 km2, however there was a substantial decline (7.94%) in pasture/hay during this time, transitioning mostly to cultivated crop. Water and wetland change comprised 15.2% of change and represent highly dynamic land cover classes from epoch to epoch, heavily influenced by precipitation. Grass and shrub change comprise 14.5% of the total change, with most change resulting from fire. Developed change was the most persistent and permanent land change increase adding almost 29,000 km2 over 15 years (5.6% of total CONUS change), with southern states exhibiting expansion much faster than most of the northern states. Temporal rates of developed change increased in 2001–2006 at twice the rate of 2011–2016, reflecting a slowdown in CONUS economic activity. Future NLCD plans include increasing monitoring frequency, reducing latency time between satellite imaging and product delivery, improving accuracy and expanding the variety of products available in an integrated database.


Land cover change, Landsat, NLCD, Remote sensing, United States


Homer, Collin; Dewitz, Jon; Jin, Suming; Xian, George; Costello, Catherine; Danielson, Patrick; Gass, Leila; Funk, Michelle; Wickham, James; Stehman, Stephen; Auch, Roger; Riitters, Kurt. 2020. Conterminous United States land cover change patterns 2001 2016 from the 2016 National Land Cover Database. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. 162: 184-199.