Natural deltas can provide human beings with flat and fertile land to be cultivated. It is important to monitor cropland dynamics to provide policy-relevant information for regional sustainable development. This paper utilized Landsat imagery to study the cropland dynamics of the Yellow River Delta during the last three decades. Multi-temporal Landsat data were used to account for the phenological variations of different plants. Several spectral and textural features were adopted to increase the between-class separability. The robust random forest classifier was used to generate the land cover maps of the Yellow River Delta for 1986, 1995, 2005 and 2015. Experimental results indicated that the proposed methodology showed good performance with an average classification accuracy of 89.44%. The spatial-temporal analysis indicated that the cropland area increased from 467.6 km2
in 1986 to 718.5 km2
in 2015 with an average growth rate of 8.65 km2
/year. The newly created croplands were mainly due to the reclamation of grassland and bare soil while the losses of croplands were due to abandoned cultivation and urban sprawl. The results demonstrate that a sustainable perspective should be adopted by the decision makers in order to simultaneously maintain food security, industrial development and ecosystem safety.
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