Date of Award

Spring 2010

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Enviromental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Barrett N Rock


Since the 1970's urban centers in and surrounding Essex and Middlesex Counties in Massachusetts have expanded and proliferated into adjacent communities. This expansion has led to the conversion of land for housing, businesses, schools, recreation, and parks, placing significant strain on existing land cover, land use, and available natural resources. Mounting growth pressures and a reduction of undeveloped land have raised serious concerns as cropland and forest fragmentation, wetland destruction, protected open-space infringement, pollution, and systematic losses of rural conditions have become obvious. To monitor development, the post-classification change detection method was applied to Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) satellite data and GIS was used to detect, quantity, and document the extent of development and its effect on the environment and to assess and quantify the demographic changes that occurred within the counties from 1990 to 2007.

Classification of the 1990 image resulted in 217 clusters and 214 clusters for the 2007 image The overall accuracy achieved for the 1990 image classification was 87.3% with a KHAT value of 0.848, and the overall accuracy for the 2007 classification was 86.27% with a KHAT value of 0.840. From 1990 to 2007 land cover change occurred primarily along major transportation corridors. The post-classification change detection results indicate that Essex and Middlesex County combined gained 23,435.66 "new" acres of land development from 1990 to 2007 through a loss and change in acreage from the Bareland, Forest, Grassland, Water, and Wetland land cover class categories. Results indicate that there was an approximate 0.56% overall (net) increase of newly developed land areas within the 1990 and 2007 image classifications from 415.46 acres or 0.64 square miles. In addition, there was a substantial decrease (-40.0%) within the grassland category. Land development was responsible for a portion of the decrease of grasslands (-13.63%), which occurred mostly within Middlesex County.

Results also indicate that "new" land development occurred within several Commonwealth of Massachusetts designated environmentally-sensitive areas: 722 acres in areas of critical environmental concern, 670 acres in priority habitats of rare species, 1,092 acres in living waters core habitats and critical supporting watersheds, 1,318 acres in protected and recreational open spaces, and within 0-1000 feet of 600 certified vernal pools. In addition, several rare or imperiled species inhabiting these areas may have been adversely affected by land development through habitat loss, change, or fragmentation, and/or passage corridor disruptions. A GIS comparison of the "new" land development acreages and census demographic statistics within Essex and Middlesex County cities and towns during this period indicate that communities with more families with children exhibited more land development, and communities with higher median household income exhibited less land development. Land change detection over the 17-year period indicated encroachment of development in areas of environmental concern, but level of development varied by socio-demographic factors.

This study also illustrated that the combined use of remotely sensed data, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, and demographic data are effective for use as a diagnostic tool and/or base to be built upon to explore associations, indicators, or drivers which may influence land cover change and its effects on existing environmental conditions in areas exhibiting change. In addition, this study provided awareness to ancillary research where scientific guidelines were derived for the protection of specific wildlife habitats and resident species. Lastly, this study presented several land cover modeling and web deployed data dissemination tools for the dissertation results as well as provided a conceptual framework for the successful adoption and implementation of these tools for organizations engaged in natural resource planning and management.