Urbanization and the resulting changes in land cover have myriad impacts on ecological systems. Monitoring these changes across large spatial extents and long time spans requires synoptic remotely sensed data with an appropriate temporal sequence. We developed a multi-temporal land cover dataset for a six-county area surrounding the Seattle, Washington State, USA, metropolitan region. Land cover maps for 1986, 1991, 1995, 1999, and 2002 were developed from Landsat TM images through a combination of spectral unmixing, image segmentation, multi-season imagery, and supervised classification approaches to differentiate an initial nine land cover classes. We then used ancillary GIS layers and temporal information to define trajectories of land cover change through multiple updating and backdating rules and refined our land cover classification for each date into 14 classes. We compared the accuracy of the initial approach with the landscape trajectory modifications and determined that the use of landscape trajectory rules increased our ability to differentiate several classes including bare soil (separated into cleared for development, agriculture, and clearcut forest) and three intensities of urban. Using the temporal dataset, we found that between 1986 and 2002, urban land cover increased from 8 to 18% of our study area, while lowland deciduous and mixed forests decreased from 21 to 14%, and grass and agriculture decreased from 11 to 8%. The intensity of urban land cover increased with 252 km2
in Heavy Urban in 1986 increasing to 629 km2
by 2002. The ecological systems that are present in this region were likely significantly altered by these changes in land cover. Our results suggest that multi-temporal (i.e.
, multiple years and multiple seasons within years) Landsat data are an economical means to quantify land cover and land cover change across large and highly heterogeneous urbanizing landscapes. Our data, and similar temporal land cover change products, have been used in ecological modeling of past, present, and likely future changes in ecological systems (e.g., avian biodiversity, water quality). Such data are important inputs for ecological modelers, policy makers, and urban planners to manage and plan for future landscape change.