Southern Bhutan Ecological Forecasting III

2020 Landsat 8 OLI data processed using principal component analysis with a band combination of 2, 3, and 9. Human settlements and roads are indicated by the green dots and white lines, respectively. The area displayed is the town of Gelephu along the southern border of Bhutan. Different colors represent different land cover types. This will provide information on land change trends which will assist partners in urban planning and allocation of wildlife corridors.

Keywords: remote sensing, Asian elephant habitat, Bhutan, LULC change mapping, LULC change forecasting, wildlife corridor mapping

Utilizing NASA Earth Observations to Model Land Cover Change and Elephant Wildlife Corridors in Southern Bhutan

Habitat loss of the endangered Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) accompanied by rapid urbanization has contributed to the rising Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) crisis in southern Bhutan. This poses a serious threat to the survival of Asian elephants, a keystone wildlife species essential for maintaining Bhutan’s forest ecosystems and rich biodiversity. With expanding urban areas, HECs present challenges to conservation efforts in the region. The team partnered with the Bhutan Foundation, the Bhutan Tiger Center, and Bhutan Ecological Society to help mitigate this issue using remote sensing technology and NASA Earth observations. The team refined Land Use and Land Cover (LULC) maps for 2010-2019 generated in previous terms and elephant corridor maps to include information on human settlements using Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper (TM) and Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) data. We generated LULC change maps and forecasted the LULC to 2030 using TerrSet Land Change Modeler, providing insights into future elephant habitat suitability in southern Bhutan. The results indicated that built-up areas increased approximately 688.9% from 2010 to 2019 and the forecasted 2030 LULC also predicted an increase in built-up areas compared to 2019. Suitable corridors in Gelephu intersect cultivated and built-up areas, indicating close proximity of elephants to humans and a need to research alternative corridor strategies. The end products from this project will aid partner organizations in decision-making processes in urban planning and future conservation strategies that include the refined placement of biological corridors to aid elephant movement and reduce the risk of HECs.

Maryland - Goddard
Summer 2021
Bhutan Tiger Center
Bhutan Foundation
Bhutan Ecological Society
NASA Earth Observations
Landsat 8 OLI
Landsat 5 TM
Thinley Yidzin Wangden (Project Lead)
Kelzang Jigme
Kezang Choki Tshering
Thinley Jurmi
Joe Spruce (Science Systems & Applications, Inc)
Dr. Kenton Ross (NASA Langley Research Center)
Sean McCartney (Science Systems & Applications, Inc., NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)