Collecting data on land use, analysing the forces driving changes in land use, and developing and testing models to derive long-term projections of land use and cover under various economic, policy and climate scenarios; also assessing possible response strategies to impacts of land cover change.
The term land cover denotes the natural or artificial objects on the Earth's surface. It is closely related to land use, which refers to why and how people work the land and how vegetation and soils are affected during this process. Land use/cover changes alter how the Earth's system functions by modifying biogeochemical cycles, radiation balance and ecological complexity. Changes in land use and land cover are among the issues central to the study of global environmental change. In addition to their cumulative long-term global dimensions, such changes can have profound regional environmental implications during the lifespan of current generations, such as the lowering of groundwater tables, problems of land and water contamination, reduced land productivity due to soil degradation and reduced biodiversity.
Most land cover change is now driven by human rather than natural causes. A systems analysis of this process requires an interdisciplinary framework emphasizing the linkages and the constraints between social, economic and political forces, on the one hand, and natural systems on the other. The framework must accommodate interactions at several spatial and temporal scales.
An IIASA project begun in 1995 models land use and land cover change in Europe and Northern Asia. The project is intended to advance scientific understanding of the processes of changes in global land use and land cover and their possible consequences. By analysing the spatial characteristics, temporal dynamics, and environmental consequences of changes in land use and land cover between 1900 and 1990, the project will define plausible future changes in land use and cover for the period 1990 to 2050 using different sets of assumptions for future demographic, political, economic, and social development.