Machine learning in modelling land-use and land cover-change (LULCC): Current status, challenges and prospects

Junye Wang, Michael Bretz, M. Ali Akber Dewan, Mojtaba Aghajani Delavar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


Land-use and land-cover change (LULCC) are of importance in natural resource management, environmental modelling and assessment, and agricultural production management. However, LULCC detection and modelling is a complex, data-driven process in the remote sensing field due to the processing of massive historical and current data, real-time interaction of scenario data, and spatial environmental data. In this paper, we review principles and methods of LULCC modelling, using machine learning and beyond, such as traditional cellular automata (CA). Then, we examine the characteristics, capabilities, limitations, and perspectives of machine learning. Machine learning has not yet been dramatic in modelling LULCC, such as urbanization prediction and crop yield prediction because competition and transition between land cover types are dynamic at a local scale under varying natural drivers and human activities. Upcoming challenges of machine learning in modelling LULCC remain in the detection and prediction of LULC evolutionary processes if considering their applicability and feasibility, such as the spatio-temporal transition mechanisms to describe occurrence, transition, spreading, and spatial patterns of changes, availability of training data of all the change drivers, particularly sequence data, and identification and inclusion of local ecological, hydrological, and social-economic drivers in addressing the spectral feature change. This review points out the need for multidisciplinary research beyond image processing and pattern recognition of machine learning in accelerating and advancing studies of LULCC modelling. Despite this, we believe that machine learning has strong potentials to incorporate new exploratory variables in modelling LULCC through expanding remote sensing big data and advancing transient algorithms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153559
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2022


  • Artificial neural network
  • Cellular automata
  • Deep learning
  • LULC
  • Machine learning
  • Remote sensing
  • Self-organizing map


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