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Front. Earth Sci. | doi: 10.3389/feart.2019.00305

Satellite data reveal cropland losses in South-Eastern Ukraine under military conflict

 Sergii Skakun1*, Christopher O. Justice1,  Nataliia Kussul2, 3,  Andrii Shelestov2, 3 and  Mykola Lavreniuk2, 3
  • 1University of Maryland, College Park, United States
  • 2Space Research Institute, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Ukraine
  • 3Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine

While people are aware that there is a continuing conflict in Ukraine, there is little understanding of its impact. The military conflict in South-Eastern Ukraine has been on-going since 2014, with a major socio-economic impact on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In this study, we quantify land cover land use changes in those regions related to cropland changes. Cropland areas account for almost 50% of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and with the declining industry between 2014–2017, the role of agriculture to the regional economy has increased. We use freely available satellite data and machine learning methods to map cropland extent in 2013 and 2018 and derive corresponding changes in cropland areas. We use a multi-layer perceptron (MLP) to classify multi-temporal Landsat-7, Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 images into cropland and non-cropland areas, and a sampling-based approach to estimate the areas of cropland change. We found that net cropland losses were not uniform across the regions, and were more substantial in the areas not under control of the Ukrainian Government (22% of net cropland area loss compared to cropland areas in 2013) and within a buffer zone along the conflict border line (46%), where combat activities occur. These results highlight the impact of the conflict on agriculture and the utility of spatially explicit information acquired from Earth observation satellites, especially for areas, where collecting ground-based data is impractical.

Keywords: Land cover - land use (LCLU), Agriculture, Cropland abandonment, Military conflict in Donbas, Ukraine, Landsat 8, Sentinel-2

Received: 17 Sep 2019; Accepted: 04 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Skakun, Justice, Kussul, Shelestov and Lavreniuk. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Sergii Skakun, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, United States, serhiy.skakun@gmail.com