Saturday, September 14, 2013

GIS and Land Use Analysis

In his 2005 article Global Consequences of Land Use, Jonathan Foley describes the multi-faceted issue we currently face in regard to anthropogenic land use and its effects on the landscape and the ecosystem services we require for survival.  He details the negative effects that different human land use has had, including uses for agriculture, manufacturing, urbanization, and all of the aspects of landscape changes that go along with them.

  Consideration is given to the percentage of the planet’s land that is used for agriculture, as well as the resources and chemicals that are put into it, especially after the Green Revolution, and their effects on water and air quality, the hydrological cycle, temperature, and ecosystem health and biodiversity.  The phenomenon of “urban heat islands” (571), caused by impervious surfaces, lack of vegetation cover and the structure of buildings leading to higher surface temperatures, is also discussed in regard to its effects on surrounding climate changes. 

Foley closes the article with an argument for the necessity of interdisciplinary approaches to these and the other problems he discusses, as well as the necessity of a variety of skill sets to determine solutions such as those he suggests for finding a balance between human land use needs and the preservation of ecosystem services. 
Use of GIS for analysis of such issues on global and regional scales could be an imperative skill set to add to such a repertoire.  Utilizing datasets on information regarding factors such as temperature changes, water levels or pollution, water or air quality, and land use distributions would allow for greater analysis of current trends and their changes over time, potentially isolating contributing factors or correlations between events that could assist in making informed decisions as to solutions.  For example, it might be used to analyze the difference that increased green spaces or sustainable building practices have on the “urban heat island” phenomenon.

Foley, J.A., et al. (2005).  Global Consequences of Land Use.  Science, 309, 570-574.


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  2. Do the " impervious surfaces" you mention in heat islands absorb heat? I'm most interested in policy measures for problems that we encounter in the social sciences, because (maybe it's just because I'm an undergrad now) it seems most of what I'm learning now is about seeing a multitude of causes interconnected in various ways. Is this article somewhat like that? It seems like policy-making is an interesting intersection of specialized vs. general knowledge. Of course it's important to understand the theoretical lenses to approach these problems with as well, and potentially the most interesting.