An assessment of land cover changes using GIS and remote sensing : a case study of the uMhlathuze Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Rapid growth of cities is a global phenomenon exerting much pressure on land resources and causing associated environmental and social problems. Sustainability of land resources has become a central issue since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. A better understanding of the processes and patterns of land cover change will aid urban planners and decision makers in guiding more environmentally conscious development. The objective of this study was firstly, to determine the location and extent of land use and land cover changes in the uMhlathuze municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa between 1992 and 2002, and secondly, to predict the likely expansion of urban areas for the year 2012. The uMhlathuze municipality has experienced rapid urban growth since 1976 when the South African Ports and Railways Administration built a deep water harbour at Richards Bay, a town within the municipality. Three Landsat satellite images were obtained for the years, 1992, 1997 and 2002. These images were classified into six classes representing the dominant land covers in the area. A post classification change detection technique was used to determine the extent and location of the changes taking place during the study period. Following this, a GIS-based land cover change suitability model, GEOMOD2, was used to determine the likely distribution of urban land cover in the year 2012. The model was validated using the 2002 image. Sugarcane was found to expand by 129% between 1992 and 1997. Urban land covers increased by an average of 24%, while forestry and woodlands decreased by 29% between 1992 and 1997. Variation in rainfall on the study years and diversity in sugarcane growth states had an impact on the classification accuracy. Overall accuracy in the study was 74% and the techniques gave a good indication of the location and extent of changes taking place in the study site, and show much promise in becoming a useful tool for regional planners and policy makers.