Land Cover Trends Project

Eastern Great Lakes and Hudson Lowlands

By Janis L. Taylor 1

Click to see available downloads for this ecoregion

map of Eastern Great Lakes and Hudson Lowlands

Figure 1.  Eastern Great Lakes and Hudson Lowlands ecoregion (83). The underlying land cover is from the 1992 National Land Cover Database (Vogelmann and others, 2001). The thirty 10 km x 10 km sample sites for the Land Cover Trends project are shown in black.Click on map to open a larger version in a new window.

 

Ecoregion Description

 

The Eastern Great Lakes and Hudson Lowlands ecoregion is a glaciated region of irregular plains bordered by hills and lakes, located mostly in New York, but also extending alongside Lake Erie into Pennsylvania and Ohio and into western Vermont, including Lake Champlain (fig. 1). This ecoregion has less surface irregularity and more agricultural activity and a higher population density than the adjacent ecoregions, Northeastern Highlands (58) and Northern Appalachian Plateau and Uplands (60) (Omernik, 1987). The ecoregion covers approximately 60,591 km2 (23,394 mi2) and is primarily a mix of forest, agricultural land, and developed land. Water bodies and rivers are a dominant feature of this forested ecoregion (fig. 2). Lake Erie and Lake Ontario form the northern boundary of the ecoregion, and Lake Champlain forms the eastern boundary.

The spodosol soils of the river valleys in the ecoregion have developed on glacial deposits. They are heavier and of better quality than soils in the higher elevations of adjacent ecoregions and provide a strong foundation for agriculture. Major crops grown in the ecoregion include apples, grapes, tart cherries, pears, plums, corn, hay, wheat, oats, barley, soybeans, cabbage, and potatoes (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1997) (fig. 3). Vineyards and wineries are found along the Lake Erie shore and in the Finger Lakes region as they experience a longer growing season, more winter cloudiness, and greater snowfall than the rest of the ecoregion.

 

Change from 1973 to 2000

 

The overall spatial change—the percentage of land area within the ecoregion where land cover changed at least once between 1973 and 2000—was fairly low in comparison to other Eastern U.S. ecoregions (fig. 4). Land cover changed on a total of 5.8 percent of the land area within the ecoregion (table 1), and of that total, 4.7 percent changed one time and 0.9 percent changed two times (table 1). Total change in each of the four time periods selected for this study was very similar, ranging between 1.3 percent and 2.1 percent (table 2). After normalizing the land cover change per period to an annual rate of change, the rates ranged from a low of 0.2 percent per year in the 1973 to 1980 period to a high of 0.4 percent per year in the 1992 to 2000 period (table 2) (fig. 5). 

Table 3 lists the percentage of each individual land cover class during each of the five mapped dates. Forest, agriculture, and developed land account for 88 percent of the land cover in the ecoregion (table 3). The timber industry in the Adirondack region developed in the 1800s, spurred on by the ability to transport logs across Lake Champlain. During the study, the amount of forested land decreased 2.1 percent from 39.9 percent in 1973 to 38.8 percent in 2000. The Finger Lakes region in upstate New York is one of several important agricultural areas in the ecoregion (fig. 6). The extent of agricultural land decreased 0.6 percent, from 39.5 percent of the ecoregion in 1973 to 37.3 percent in 2000. Developed land showed the greatest change with an areal increase of 2.4 percent, from 9.1 percent in 1973 to 11.5 percent in 2000.

During the entire study period, the conversion of forest to developed land was most common (table 4). The second most common conversion was agricultural land to developed land. Developed land increased in each of the four time intervals (fig. 7). A majority of the newly developed land was converted from forest in the first two time intervals, 1973 to 1980 and 1980 to 1986, and from agricultural in the last two time intervals, 1986 to 1992 and 1992 to 2000 (table 4). This unidirectional land cover change to developed land was driven by a population increase both in and around several large urban centers including Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Cleveland, Ohio; and Erie, Pennsylvania.

Populated places across this ecoregion have long been tied to waterways, as these waterways have been important traffic arteries, providing easy passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes (fig. 8). For example, the New York State Canal System, which replaced the Erie Canal in the early 1900s, links together many of the lakes and rivers in the region. In addition to being transportation routes, the Hudson River, St. Lawrence River, Mohawk River, Black River, and Niagara River are also scenic and tourist attractions, as well as sources of hydroelectric power.

The third most common conversion overall was the conversion of agriculture to the grassland/shrub class. The largest conversion of this type occurred from 1986 to 1992, when 220 km2 of agricultural land was converted to grassland/shrubland (table 4). In the interval from 1980 to 1986, 121 km2 of agricultural land was converted to grassland/shrubland (table 4). This type of conversion is driven by either agricultural abandonment, or it is a step in the transition to developed land.

 

References

 

Omernik, J.M. 1987.  Ecoregions of the conterminous United States: Annals of the Association of American Geographers v. 77, n. 1, p. 118-125.

 

US Department of Agriculture, 1997, Census of Agriculture, <http://www.usda.gov/nass/pubs/agr97/acro97.htm>.

 

Vogelmann, J.E, Howard, S.M., Yang, L., Larson, C.R., Wylie, B.K., and Van Driel, N., 2001, Completion of the 1990s National Land Cover Data set for the conterminous United States from Landsat Thematic Mapper data and ancillary data sources: Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing, v. 61, p. 650-662.

 

 

Table 1.  Amount of overall spatial change detected in the ecoregion and proportion of the ecoregion that experienced change during one or multiple time periods

 

 

Overall

Number of changes

 

spatial change

1

2

3

4

Percent of ecoregion

5.8

4.9

0.8

0.0

0.0

 

 

 

Table 2.  Raw estimates of percent change in the ecoregion computed for each of the four time periods and associated margin of error at an 85-percent confidence level

 

[Estimates of change per period normalized to an annual rate of change for each of the four time periods]

 

 

Period

 

1973-1980

1980-1986

1986-1992

1992-2000

Total change (% of ecoregion)

1.2%

1.5%

2.2%

1.8%

Margin of error (85% confidence level)

+/-0.3%

+/-0.4%

+/-0.6%

+/-0.5%

Average annual rate of change (%/year)

0.2%

0.2%

0.4%

0.2%

 

 

 

Table 3.  Proportion of the ecoregion covered by each land cover class during each of the five mapped dates

 

 

1973

1980

1986

1992

2000

Net change 1973-2000

Land-use/land-cover class

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

Water

2501

4.2

2508

4.3

2531

4.3

2558

4.3

2567

4.4

66

0.1

Developed

5574

9.5

5767

9.8

6068

10.3

6515

11.1

7022

11.9

1448

2.5

Mechanically disturbed

15

0.0

74

0.1

47

0.1

110

0.2

63

0.1

48

0.1

Mining

233

0.4

249

0.4

253

0.4

259

0.4

267

0.5

34

0.1

Barren

1

0.0

1

0.0

1

0.0

1

0.0

1

0.0

0

0.0

Forest

23824

40.4

23730

40.3

23593

40.0

23599

40.0

23558

40.0

-266

-0.5

Grassland/Shrubland

310

0.5

322

0.5

382

0.6

454

0.8

452

0.8

141

0.2

Agriculture

24112

40.9

23921

40.6

23714

40.2

23113

39.2

22694

38.5

-1418

-2.4

Wetland

2374

4.0

2369

4.0

2353

4.0

2334

4.0

2319

3.9

-54

-0.1

Non-mechanically disturbed

0

0

0

0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

 

 


Table 4.  Leading land cover conversions from 1973 to 2000 ranked by greatest to least area changed

 

 

 

 

Area changed

% of all

Period

From class

To class

(km2)

changes

1973-1980

Agriculture

Forest

164

23

 

Forest

Developed

157

22

 

Forest

Agriculture

146

20

 

Agriculture

Developed

59

8

 

Grassland/Shrubland

Forest

57

8

 

Other classes

Other classes

132

18

 

 

 

715

100

 

 

 

 

 

1980-1986

Forest

Developed

152

17

 

Agriculture

Grassland/Shrubland

142

16

 

Forest

Agriculture

139

16

 

Grassland/Shrubland

Forest

89

10

 

Agriculture

Forest

89

10

 

Other classes

Other classes

261

30

 

 

 

872

100

 

 

 

 

 

1986-1992

Agriculture

Developed

262

20

 

Agriculture

Grassland/Shrubland

247

19

 

Grassland/Shrubland

Forest

198

15

 

Forest

Developed

144

11

 

Agriculture

Forest

122

9

 

Other classes

Other classes

352

27

 

 

 

1,325

100

 

 

 

 

 

1992-2000

Agriculture

Developed

216

20

 

Forest

Developed

177

16

 

Grassland/Shrubland

Forest

163

15

 

Agriculture

Grassland/Shrubland

161

15

 

Mechanically disturbed

Developed

92

8

 

Other classes

Other classes

280

26

 

 

 

1,089

100

Overall:

 

 

 

 

1973-2000

Forest

Developed

630

16

 

Agriculture

Developed

620

15

 

Agriculture

Grassland/Shrubland

591

15

 

Grassland/Shrubland

Forest

507

13

 

Forest

Agriculture

442

11

 

Other classes

Other classes

1,211

30

 

 

 

4,001

100

 

 

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 1.  Eastern Great Lakes and Hudson Lowlands ecoregion (83). The underlying land cover is from the 1992 National Land Cover Database (Vogelmann and others, 2001). The thirty 10 km x 10 km sample sites for the Land Cover Trends project are shown in black.

 

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 2.  Homes and farm fields on the hills surrounding Otisco Lake, east of Auburn, New York.

 

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 3.  Corn field surrounded by forest near Cambridge, New York.

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 4.  The overall spatial change in all Eastern U.S. ecoregions.  Each bar chart shows the proportion of the ecoregion that experienced change on 1, 2, 3, or 4 dates.

 

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 5.  The estimates of land cover change per time interval normalized to an annual rate of change.

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 6.  Dairy farm near Conesus Lake in Livingston County, New York.

 

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 7.  The percentage of land cover change by sector during each time interval.

 

 

Refer to caption

 

Figure 8.  New subdivision southeast of Buffalo, New York.

 

 

 



[1] SAIC TSSC, work performed under U.S. Geological Survey contract 03CRN001 at U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Earth Resources Observation and Science, Sioux Falls, SD 57198

 

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