Land Change in Australia

This is for my Aussie fans. I show how Australia’s landscape changed from 2001 to 2019 using best available satellite data.

Parts of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea that should appear on the map, are changed to water.


Type                                |   2001  |   2019  |  Change |  % Chg
Evergreen Needleleaf Forest         |  0.4615 |  0.4885 | +0.0270 |   +5.85%
Evergreen Broadleaf Forest          |  2.4580 |  2.5659 | +0.1079 |   +4.39%
Deciduous Broadleaf Forest          |  0.0094 |  0.0167 | +0.0073 |  +77.66%
Mixed Forests                       |  0.0570 |  0.0737 | +0.0167 |  +29.30%
Closed Shrubland                    |  3.8315 |  4.0744 | +0.2429 |   +6.34%
Open Shrublands                     | 54.0555 | 54.7268 | +0.6713 |   +1.24%
Woody Savannas                      |  1.6631 |  1.9115 | +0.2484 |  +14.94%
Savannas                            |  6.4679 |  6.6289 | +0.1610 |   +2.49%
Grasslands                          | 24.9655 | 23.3947 | -1.5708 |   -6.29%
Permanent Wetlands                  |  0.2007 |  0.2198 | +0.0191 |   +9.52%
Croplands                           |  3.4671 |  3.5146 | +0.0475 |   +1.37%
Urban and Built-up                  |  0.1321 |  0.1388 | +0.0067 |   +5.07%
Cropland/Natural Vegetation Mosaic  |  0.0065 |  0.0110 | +0.0045 |  +69.23%
Snow and Ice                        |  0.0001 |  0.0005 | +0.0004 | +400.00%
Barren or Sparsely Vegetated        |  2.2241 |  2.2339 | +0.0098 |   +0.44%

Columns are in overall percent, except the last, which shows percent change from 2001 to 2019.

Enjoy 🙂 -Zoe


# Zoe Phin, 2021/02/28
# File:
# Run: source; require; download <user> <pass>; prepare; maps; animate; analyze

require() { sudo apt-get install hdf4-tools imagemagick; }

download() { base=""
    wget -O 2001.hdf --user=$1 --password=$2 $base/2001.01.01/MCD12C1.A2001001.006.2018053185512.hdf
    wget -O 2019.hdf --user=$1 --password=$2 $base/2019.01.01/MCD12C1.A2019001.006.2020220162300.hdf

parse_mlc() {
    ncdump-hdf -v Majority_Land_Cover_Type_1 $1.hdf | sed 1,702d | tr -d ',;}' | awk '{
        for (i=1; i<=NF; i++) printf "%02d ", $i}' | fold -w21600 > $1.mlc

parse_lct() {
    ncdump-hdf -v Land_Cover_Type_1_Percent $1.hdf | sed 1,702d | tr -d ',;}' | awk '{
        for (i=1; i<=NF; i++) printf "%03d ", $i}' | fold -w489600 > $1.dat

prepare() { parse_mct 2001; parse_mct 2019; parse_lct 2001; parse_lct 2019; }

aus() { ( echo -e 'P3\n830 680\n255'; sed -n 2001,2680p $1.mlc | awk '{
    for (x=5851; x<=6680; x++) {
        if ( (NR<20 && x<6100) || (NR<50 && x>6500) ) printf "000 000 128 "
        else { if ($x==0) printf "000 000 128 "
            if ($x == 01) printf "024 160 064 "
            if ($x == 02) printf "041 216 082 "
            if ($x == 03) printf "156 216 083 "
            if ($x == 04) printf "158 251 183 "
            if ($x == 05) printf "151 202 178 "
            if ($x == 06) printf "193 163 181 "
            if ($x == 07) printf "244 230 206 "
            if ($x == 08) printf "219 240 188 "
            if ($x == 09) printf "249 224 000 "
            if ($x == 10) printf "239 198 160 "
            if ($x == 11) printf "087 153 208 "
            if ($x == 12) printf "246 242 153 "
            if ($x == 13) printf "251 005 000 "
            if ($x == 14) printf "156 168 128 "
            if ($x == 15) printf "250 250 250 "
            if ($x == 16) printf "195 195 195 "
    } print "" }' ) > .pnm 
    convert .pnm -fill white -stroke white -pointsize 30 -gravity NorthEast -annotate 0 "$1" aus$1.png

maps() { aus 2001; aus 2019; }

animate() { convert -loop 0 -delay 200 aus*.png animaus.gif; }

count() {
    sed -n 2001,2680p $1.dat | awk 'BEGIN { 
        a=6378.137; e=1-6356.752^2/a^2; r=atan2(0,-1)/180 
    } {
        for (t=2; t<=17; t++)
            for (x=5851; x<=6680; x++) {
                if ( (NR<20 && x<6100) || (NR<50 && x>6500) ) continue
                S[t] += $(17*x+t)/100*A
    } END {
        for (t=2; t<=17; t++) SA+=S[t]
        for (t=2; t<=17; t++) {
            printf "%07.4f\n", S[t]/SA*100

analyze() { 
    echo 'Evergreen Needleleaf Forest
        Evergreen Broadleaf Forest
        Deciduous Needleleaf Forest
        Deciduous Broadleaf Forest
        Mixed Forests
        Closed Shrubland
        Open Shrublands
        Woody Savannas
        Permanent Wetlands
        Urban and Built-up
        Cropland/Natural Vegetation Mosaic
        Snow and Ice
        Barren or Sparsely Vegetated' | tr -d '\t' > .type

    count 2001 > .2001
    count 2019 > .2019

    echo 'Type                                |   2001  |   2019  |  Change |  % Chg' 
    echo '------------------------------------+---------+---------+---------+---------'
    paste -d, .type .2001 .2019 | awk -F, '$2!=0 {
        printf "%-35s | %7.4f | %7.4f | %+7.4f | %+7.2f%\n", $1, $2, $3, $3-$2, ($3/$2-1)*100

This data requires user registration. Substitute <user> and <pass> with your credentials.

Published by Zoe Phin

17 thoughts on “Land Change in Australia

  1. Hmmmm, snow and ice up 400%.More closed shrubland on the edges of cultivation represents an enhanced cropland opportunity on the driest margins. Cropland increasing. Forests expanding and doing well. Looks like a land of opportunity to me.

    On the other hand, urban and built up areas very tightly concentrated in coastal enclaves where the cost of housing is driving the worlds greatest level of indebtedness and forcing females into the workforce.

    The good news is that some of those city folk are moving into regional areas where land and housing is cheaper.

    This data should give pause for thought. Well done Zoe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The snow and ice is probably transient. May change a lot year to year. This one measure is not reliable. The rest is. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives, by far!


  2. Large regional changes in snow-cover. But as a whole nearly constant over the last 6 decades, at least for the northern hemishphere.

    The big picture: At the height of the last glaciation, 30 percent of the earth was covered in ice. Still today 10 percent is covered in ice, and another 14 percent is covered in permafrost. The fact that large parts of the world experience snowy winters, and that we have glaciers even at temperate places like New Zealand, is unusual. 50 million years ago there was no such thing as glaciations periods. But something happened about 2.5 million years ago, and since then we have had at least 17 frozen periods. Explanation: the sun’s output dropped by 6%. (AGW-people won’t accept this, and says that the production og greenhouse gases stopped and led to the cooling)

    The above information is from the book “A Short story of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Zoe, your results seem odd. For example, snow cover is declining in Australia, according to official reports at least. As well, it is claimed that the most forest clearing for cattle farming occurs in the north, primarily in Queensland. Yet the numbers above seem to be reversed, for example the big increase in snow, substantial increases in forest cover and the loss of grasslands in the northern regions, especially Queensland. Are you sure you have the time sequence correct?

    Just as an aside, I have wondered about excursions in high temperature extremes, particularly in the south eastern regions. Air tends to warm in the arid centre and winds then blow this hot air out to the south and eastern coasts, causing very hot periods. These seem to be increasing. I am curious at the extent to which clearing for agriculture has contributed to this. First because replacing natural scrubby vegetation and deep native grasses with crops like wheat and grasslands for cattle might increase thermal radiation and also because of the impacts of agriculture in drought periods. Wheat and so on are harvested in spring and the land lies fallow until next planting in March, which must mean exposed soils can heat more. As well, during drought cattle and sheep crop the grass to bare earth, again increasing the potential for soil to heat up at the same time as the fallow areas are heating up. The very bad recent drought was notable for the huge expanses of bare earth where cattle could no longer graze.

    Given that much of the wheat and cattle etc are grown away from the coastal fringe, it seems to me that agriculture may be causing higher extremes than were the case in the pre-European period. Whether there is any way to tell if this is true I have no idea. There have been papers that note reforesting south-eastern regions could reduce summer maximums by as much as 1-1.5C, so who knows.


    1. I agree, there is little information on the comparison of historic deforestation and changes to climate in Australia. Removal of near 40% of forest and woodlands over past 200 years and particularly last 50 years.
      I also agree the Inland est coast land clearing has reduced the hot dry buffer Never seen a time series chart or maps showing deforestation vs rainfall and temp over continent or localised areas over 100 years. It is well established broad scale deforestation has a dramatic impact on localised rainfall and surface temperature.
      I have tried to raise this lack of investigation on WUWT, the reply, it’s not done because you can’t tax this as a climate change fighting scenario.
      The loss of the great cedar forests of Lebanon , desertification of millions acres, and now they protect tiny remaining fragments. The grief and lesson so strong the tree sits prime on the countries flag.
      Europe razed most of its forests during the golden age of sailing.


    2. Graeme M – Tree cover has increased in Queensland over the past 21 years due to the introduction of the Vegetation Management Act in 1999. With extensive zero till cropping practiced which leaves a stubble cover on the ground and the fact that Queensland grows a lot of summer crops such as legumes in their cropping rotation process. Legumes actually fix nitrogen in the soil as well as provide ground cover. Cattle do not graze to bare dirt, and rotational grazing and other modern grazing management plans ensure that ground cover is present. Saw an interesting comment recently that new research has shown that treeless outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne can increase temperature by up to 10 degrees.
      Caroline H


      1. Be good if you provide a link to your claim on Qld deforestation being no problem …..

        “The Queensland Greens say they support emergency measures to protect all native wildlife and ecosystems, including “tackling rampant land clearing”.

        Their website claims: “More than 1 million hectares of native bush and forest has been cleared in Queensland over the last four years. Land clearing in Queensland is now on par with Brazil.”

        basically all for cattle.

        and ….
        “land on Cape York, has the highest clearing rate, but NSW is rapidly becoming a hotspot – and there is less to lose, with only 9% of the state’s vegetation in its original state.”

        This guardian article has some excellent time series maps.

        Kind Regards


  4. Increase in woody vegetation matches with historical records, many old photographs & explorer descriptions of many areas of Australia indicate open landscapes, that today are covered in trees & shrubs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Michelle, link to map showing land clearing and degradation from pre 1880 to 2000’s.

    Your description of the environmental condition of the country I live in is bizarre to say the least. How about a reference to back up what your sayin?

    Further, the impact of deforestation in Australia presented in this report.

     ” The effect of land clearing on rainfall and fresh water resources in Western Australia: a multi-functional sustainability analysis”

    Published in the “International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology” 2013.

    From the abstract: “…..We compare coastal and inland rainfall to show empirically that 55% to 62% of the observed rainfall decline is the result of land clearing alone. [an area south coast of Western Australia] Using the index of sustainable functionality, we show that the economic consequences associated with this change of land use on fresh water resource availability have been underestimated to date and disproportionately affect the environment and poorest members of the population.”

    Article in ABC news interviewed the author of the above paper and discusses in depth “When trees make rain: Could restoring forests help ease drought in Australia?” September 2018, states “….Around 50 per cent of native forests in the state’s south-west [western australia] were cleared between the 1960s and 1980s, which coincided with a decrease of around 16 per cent in inland rainfall compared to coastal rain, according to University of Western Australia researcher Mark Andrich.”


  6. Interesting data, particularly the extent to which grasslands are being replaced by various woody types of landcover. (Open shrublands, woody savannahs and closed shrubland.) I don’t know the local ecology; I’ve always associated woody landcover with higher levels of precipitation (I grew up in the US Northeast). I also lived in California for quite a while, though, and am familiar with very arid areas with brushy landcover, so I guess the correlation could go either way. Despite my own ignorance of the implications, though, it’s fascinating to see images reduced to data like this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Did you miss this in the data set documentation?

    “Despite improving the stability to the product, we urge users not to use the product to determine post-classification land cover change.”


    1. So anyone who uses this product is at fault, including papers selected by the IPCC? That’s great. So the answer is “nobody knows”? This would’ve been a very short article then. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?

      There is also a ~4 W/m^2 uncertainty in radiative fluxes, and CERES urges scientists not to use its product to determine “net absorption from global warming”, but everyone does it anyway because it serves a narrative, and I suppose its better to have something rather than nothing. So what did I do wrong?


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