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Urban clusters in China and India

Over the next two decades, the combined urban population in China and India will grow by more than 700 million. China’s urban population is expected to increase by 400 million and India’s urban population will nearly double from today’s 350 million. During this same period, China will create at least 30 new cities of 1 million; India is expected to add 26 cities of this size. The urban transitions underway in these two countries represent the largest urban transition in history. Put into a global context, by 2030, nearly one-third of the world’s urban inhabitants will live in either China or India.

This NASA-funded project aims to quantify and understand the growth of urban clusters in these two rapidly urbanizing countries. This project builds knowledge and experience from our previous NASA urban LCLUC projects in China (1996; 2001; 2007) and NSF funded research in China and India (2004). At the same time, the proposed project is a significant departure from past efforts in that our current goal is to quantify and understand the growth of urban clusters, not of individual cities or peri-urban areas around individual cities. The emphasis on urban clusters reflects recent research from the allied fields of economics, urban planning, and political science that indicate that the urban cluster is an important functional unit for economic, policy, and land use planning. While new research on urban clusters demonstrates that patterns of urban growth cannot be adequately captured within the traditional administrative boundaries of the city, the dynamics of cluster development have yet to be fully explored in land cover and land use studies. We posit that by ignoring urban cluster land use dynamics, we will fail to address a critical process that is currently underway in China and India. This project recognizes the importance of the urban cluster and the research questions are framed around detecting and explaining their growth and emergence. The project has three primary goals:

Goal #1: Detect and quantify the growth of urban cluster “hot spots” in China and India. We will use time series MODIS and DSMP OLS imagery to develop remote sensing methods that can rapidly identify urban clusters that are experiencing rapid expansion.

Goal #2: Identify the types of land cover changes in these urban cluster hot spots and when they occurred, with an emphasis on the loss of agricultural land. Within the urban cluster hot spots, we will use time series MODIS and DMSP OLS data in complementary ways to develop new algorithms that can rapidly assess what types of land cover changes are occurring and when they occurred. Preliminary results indicate that using both the time series MODIS and DMSP data will yield rapid and accurate results of urban land cover change. We will use Landsat-derived data sets developed from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and previous NASA LCLUC projects to accuracy assess our analysis of types and timing of urban land conversion and agricultural land loss.

Goal #3: Explain the drivers of the growth of urban clusters and urban land conversion within them. We will evaluate the drivers of urban land conversion within an individual urban cluster and among urban clusters at the national scale. We will assess why urban growth occurs within a single urban cluster, and why some clusters grow faster than others. For China, we will develop econometric models of urban cluster growth and explicitly evaluate the role of policy through the use of a national dataset on fiscal transfers and migration. For India, we will use a multi-scale approach: first we will develop a national-level econometric model focusing on investments in construction and education as independent variables. We will also use a case study approach and apply an urban planning analytical framework and focus in on the Delhi-Chandigarh urban cluster in the north.

The research responds to both elements of the NASA LCLUC solicitation (detection and drivers) and has at its core, a strong remote sensing component complemented by analytical frameworks from political science, economics, urban planning, and geography. The interdisciplinary project team is comprised of researchers in China, India, and the U.S., who will leverage their in-depth regional expertise, experience, and institutional assets to provide depth-of-knowledge and strength to the project. The expected significance and benefits of the research include: 1) An improved scientific understanding of urban land conversion processes and their underlying drivers in China and India; 2) Developing new remote sensing algorithms that can rapidly detect and characterize the growth of urban cluster hot spots; 3) Creating new data sets that quantify and characterize urban land dynamics and agricultural land loss at regional and national scales useful to other Earth system science research efforts; 4) Explicit linkages to international programs such as the IHDP-IGBP Global Land Project (GLP), the IHDP Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Program (UGEC), the Monsoon Area Integrated Regional Study (MAIRS) Program, and MEGAPOLI.