Thirty Years of Land Cover and Fraction Cover Changes over the Sudano-Sahel Using Landsat Time Series

Souverijns, Niels; Buchhorn, Marcel; Horion, Stéphanie; Fensholt, Rasmus; Verbeeck, Hans; Verbesselt, Jan; Herold, Martin; Tsendbazar, Nandin-Erdene; Bernardino, Paulo N.; Somers, Ben; De Kerchove, Ruben Van


Historical land cover maps are of high importance for scientists and policy makers studying the dynamic character of land cover change in the Sudano-Sahel, including anthropogenic and climatological drivers. Despite its relevance, an accurate high resolution record of historical land cover maps is currently lacking over the Sudano-Sahel. In this study, 30 m resolution historically consistent land cover and cover fraction maps are provided over the Sudano-Sahel for the period 1986–2015. These land cover/cover fraction maps are achieved based on the Landsat archive preprocessed on Google Earth Engine and a random forest classification/regression model, while historical consistency is achieved using the hidden Markov model. Using these historical maps, a multitude of variability in the dynamic Sudano-Sahel region over the past 30 years is revealed. On the one hand, Sahel-wide cropland expansion and the re-greening of the Sahel is observed in the discrete land cover classification. On the other hand, subtle changes such as forest degradation are detected based on the cover fraction maps. Additionally, exploiting the 30 m spatial resolution, fine-scale changes, such as smallholder or subsistence farming, can be detected. The historical land cover/cover fraction maps presented in this study are made available via an open-access platform