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Simulating Complexity in a Dynamic Landscape 2001 - 2005


Land use changes are significantly altering land cover, and various branches of science are requesting realistic models of LULCC at multiple and interacting spatial and temporal scales.  The development of predictive scenarios of LULCC in Nang Rong, Thailand, is a vital part of the ongoing program of research focused on social, demographic, and environmental change in this region.


The recent National Academy of Sciences report on the "Grand Challenges in Environmental Science" mentions explicitly the need to develop innovative applications of dynamic spatial simulation techniques as one component of the challenge "to develop a systematic understanding of changes in land uses and land covers critical to ecosystem functioning and human welfare."  This research uses unique multi-thematic and spatially explicit data combined with expert knowledge, a set of analytic results, and dynamic modeling approaches to describe, explain, and explore the consequences of land cover and land use change in Nang Rong.

Scope of Work

Researchers are using the rich data collected and assembled for Nang Rong district, and building on earlier analyses by Nang Rong investigators.  They are examining scenarios based on empirical relationships in seven areas, ranging from the history of village settlement, to monsoon history, to construction of the electric grid.  Results of the scenario simulations will be used to examine the spatial distribution as well as the composition of  LULCC, LULCC trajectories at the pixel and other levels, and temporal and spatial scale dependencies.

Analytical Methods

First, a cellular automaton (CA) model representing LULCC is being developed, calibrated, and validated using a time series of remotely sensed satellite and aircraft images from Northeast Thailand lined to spatially referenced biophysical and socioeconomic coverages as input data combined with "rules" derived from empirical analyses of those data.  Second, the CA model will be used in dynamic simulations to explore LULCC as both cause and consequence of : a) patterns of village settlement in a frontier environment; b) road development and increases in vehicular traffic; c) migration and household formation; d) land tenure; e) monsoonal variability; f) agricultural intensification; g) cooperative use of the hydrological layer; h) major shifts in world markets; and i) electrification, rise in television ownership, and the spread of consumerism.

Contributions to the Field

The Nang Rong data, including extensive social network data, allows scientists to incorporate meaningful information about human behavior and decisions into models.  The simulation will be packaged into a multimedia GIS database together with other materials explaining the site and situation, adapted to and tested for use at the secondary and college levels in the U.S. and Thailand, and then made publicly available on the Internet.  See publications for a list of publications and presentations emanating from this work.


This project is funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

  Last Modified: 10/18/2004 UNC Carolina Population Center