Long-term intensive land use/cover changes (LUCCs) of the Yellow River Delta (YRD) have been happening since the 1960s. The land use patterns of the LUCCs are crucial for bio-diversity conservation and/or sustainable development. This study quantified patterns of the LUCCs, explored the systematic transitions, and identified wetland change trajectory for the period 1976–2014 in the YRD. Landsat imageries of 1976, 1984, 1995, 2006, and 2014 were used to derive nine land use classes. Post classification change detection analysis based on enhanced transition matrix was applied to identify land use dynamics and trajectory of wetland change. The five cartographic outputs for changes in land use underlined major decreases in natural wetland areas and increases in artificial wetland and non-wetland, especially aquafarms, salt pans and construction lands. The systematic transitions in the YRD were wetland degradation, wetland artificialization, and urbanization. Wetland change trajectory results demonstrated that the main wetland changes were wetland degradation and wetland artificialization. Coastline change is the subordinate reason for natural wetland degradation in comparison with human activities. The results of this study allowed for an improvement in the understanding of the LUCC processes and enabled researchers and planners to focus on the most important signals of systematic landscape transitions while also allowing for a better understanding of the proximate causes of changes.
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