The appropriation of natural land covers into land use systems is a significant global environmental change dynamic, impacting climate, hydrology, biodiversity and other earth systems. Here, we present a 2019 global land cover and land use map derived from Landsat satellite imagery, and from it estimate spatial extent and dispersion of land use disaggregated by climate domain and ecozone. We find that percent of area under land use and distance to land use follow a power law that depicts an increasingly random spatial distribution of land use as it extends across lands of comparable development potential. For highly developed climate/ecozones, such as temperate and sub-tropical terra firma vegetation on low slopes, land use occupies half of the land surface, and the average distance of all land to land use is less than one kilometer. For such landscapes, land use is a continuum with remnant natural land cover having low areal extent and high fragmentation. The tropics generally have the greatest potential for land use expansion, particularly in South America. An exception is Asian humid tropical terra firma vegetated lowland, which has land use intensities comparable to that of temperate breadbaskets. Montane lands have a magnitude smaller percent land use and are one magnitude further from land use than their lowland counterparts. The percent area of wetland ecozones is inversely proportional to percent land use on low slopes, indicating historical wetland loss. Results implicate planning efforts in maintaining natural systems and associated ecosystem services, as land use dominates where intrinsic factors such as climate and slope are not limiting.
M.C. Hansen, P.V. Potapov, A.H. Pickens, A. Tyukavina, A. Hernandez-Serna, V. Zalles, S. Turubanova, I. Kommareddy, S.V. Stehman, X-P Song (2022) Global land use extent and dispersion within natural land cover using Landsat data. Environmental Research Letters, 17(3) https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac46ec