Eastern Europe's forest cover dynamics from 1985 to 2012 quantified from the full Landsat archive

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In the former “Eastern Bloc” countries, there have been dramatic changes in forest disturbance and forest recovery rates since the collapse of the Soviet Union, due to the transition to open-market economies, and the recent economic crisis. Unfortunately though, Eastern European countries collected their forest statistics inconsistently, and their boundaries have changed, making it difficult to analyze forest dynamics over time. Our goal here was to consistently quantify forest cover change across Eastern Europe since the 1980s based on the Landsat image archive. We developed an algorithm to simultaneously process data from different Landsat platforms and sensors (TM and ETM +) to map annual forest cover loss and decadal forest cover gain. We processed 59,539 Landsat images for 527 footprints across Eastern Europe and European Russia. Our results were highly accurate, with gross forest loss producer's and user's accuracy of > 88% and > 89%, respectively, and gross forest gain producer's and user's accuracy of > 75% and > 91%, based on a sample of probability-based validation points. We found substantial changes in the forest cover of Eastern Europe. Net forest cover increased from 1985 to 2012 by 4.7% across the region, but decreased in Estonia and Latvia. Average annual gross forest cover loss was 0.41% of total forest cover area, with a statistically significant increase from 1985 to 2012. Timber harvesting was the main cause of forest loss, accompanied by some insect defoliation and forest conversion, while only 7.4% of the total forest cover loss was due to large-scale wildfires and windstorms. Overall, the countries of Eastern Europe experienced constant levels or declines in forest loss after the collapse of socialism in the late 1980s, but a pronounced increase in loss in the early 2000s. By the late 2000s, however, the global economic crisis coincided with reduced timber harvesting in most countries, except Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Baltic states. Most forest disturbance did not result in a permanent forest loss during our study period. Indeed, forest generally recovered fast and only 12% of the areas of forest loss prior to 1995 had not yet recovered by 2012. Our results allow national and sub-national level analysis and are available on-line (http://glad.geog.umd.edu/europe/) to serve as a baseline for further analyses of forest dynamics and its drivers.

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© 2014 Elsevier Inc. Publisher's version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2014.11.027

Publication Title

Remote Sensing of Environment