Combined analysis of land cover change and NDVI trends in the Northern Eurasian grain belt

Christopher K. Wright, Kirsten M. de Beurs, Geoffrey M. Henebry

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48 Scopus citations


We present an approach to regional environmental monitoring in the Northern Eurasian grain belt combining time series analysis of MODIS normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data over the period 2001-2008 and land cover change (LCC) analysis of the 2001 and 2008 MODIS Global Land Cover product (MCD12Q1). NDVI trends were overwhelmingly negative across the grain belt with statistically significant (p≤0. 05) positive trends covering only 1% of the land surface. LCC was dominated by transitions between three classes; cropland, grassland, and a mixed cropland/natural vegetation mosaic. Combining our analyses of NDVI trends and LCC, we found a pattern of agricultural abandonment (cropland to grassland) in the southern range of the grain belt coinciding with statistically significant (p≤0. 05) negative NDVI trends and likely driven by regional drought. In the northern range of the grain belt we found an opposite tendency toward agricultural intensification; in this case, represented by LCC from cropland mosaic to pure cropland, and also associated with statistically significant (p≤0. 05) negative NDVI trends. Relatively small clusters of statistically significant (p≤0. 05) positive NDVI trends corresponding with both localized land abandonment and localized agricultural intensification show that land use decision making is not uniform across the region. Land surface change in the Northern Eurasian grain belt is part of a larger pattern of land cover land use change (LCLUC) in Eastern Europe, Russia, and former territories of the Soviet Union following realignment of socialist land tenure and agricultural markets. Here, we show that a combined analysis of LCC and NDVI trends provides a more complete picture of the complexities of LCLUC in the Northern Eurasian grain belt, involving both broader climatic forcing, and narrower anthropogenic impacts, than might be obtained from either analysis alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-187
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers of Earth Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported in part by the NEESPI and NASA LCLUC projects entitled Evaluating the effects of institutional changes on regional hydrometeorology: Assessing the vulnerability of the Eurasian semi-arid grain belt to GMH and Land Abandonment in Russia: Understanding Recent Trends and Assessing Future Vulnerability and Adaptation to Changing Climate and Population Dynamics to KMdB. We would like to thank P. de Beurs for the application development that allowed us to estimate the trend statistics efficiently.


  • Kazakhstan
  • NDVI
  • Northern Eurasian grain belt
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • land cover change
  • time series analysis


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