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Sergii Skakun of the Harvest Hub Publishes Article on Cropland Losses in South-Eastern Ukraine Under Military Conflict

satellite data

Dr. Sergii Skakun (Harvest Hub) and Dr. Christopher Justice (Harvest Chief Scientist) along with collaborators at both Space Research Institute NAS Ukraine and SSA Ukraine and Institute of Physics and Technology, National Technical University of Ukraine “Kyiv Polytechnic Institute” (Dr. Nataliia Kussul, Dr. Andrii Shelestov, and Dr. Mykola Lavreniuk) published their work on the use of satellite data to reveal cropland losses under military conflict in Ukraine. Due to the open availability of free satellite data and machine learning methods to map croplands, the group was able to make comparisons in cropland changes over time and by specific regions. Furthermore, they were able to use this satellite data when ground data was not available and difficult to obtain in order to draw connections between conflicts in the region and the agricultural impacts on croplands.


The military conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, which started in 2014, has led to the decline of industrial production and the relative increased role of agriculture in the regional economy. As the conflict has been impacting agricultural areas, which account for almost 50% of the two regions, the team of researchers used satellite imagery to quantify agricultural land use changes between 2013 and 2018. The results show that, while areas under control of the Ukrainian Government did not experience net cropland losses, the areas under control of militants experienced almost 22% decrease in cropland areas in 2018 as compared to 2013. The majority of the losses were due to land abandonment, exhibiting a return to natural vegetation.



While people are aware that there is a continuing conflict in Ukraine, there is little understanding of its impact. The military conflict in South-Eastern Ukraine has been on-going since 2014, with a major socio-economic impact on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In this study, we quantify land cover land use changes in those regions related to cropland changes. Cropland areas account for almost 50% of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and with the declining industry between 2014 and 2017, the role of agriculture to the regional economy has increased. We use freely available satellite data and machine learning methods to map cropland extent in 2013 and 2018 and derive corresponding changes in cropland areas. We use a multi-layer perceptron (MLP) to classify multi-temporal Landsat-7, Landsat-8, and Sentinel-2 images into cropland and non-cropland areas, and a sampling-based approach to estimate the areas of cropland change. We found that net cropland losses were not uniform across the regions, and were more substantial in the areas not under control of the Ukrainian Government (22% of net cropland area loss compared to cropland areas in 2013) and within a buffer zone along the conflict border line (46%), where combat activities occur. These results highlight the impact of the conflict on agriculture and the utility of spatially explicit information acquired from Earth observation satellites, especially for areas, where collecting ground-based data is impractical. 

Visit Frontiers in Earth Science webpage to read the full article.

News Date
Nov 22, 2019