Mapping and assessing land cover/land use and aboveground carbon stocks rapid changes in small oceanic islands' terrestrial ecosystems: a case study of Madeira Island, Portugal (2009-2011).
Small islands face environmental issues directly or indirectly related to land cover/land use changes (LCLUC), such as natural hazards, climate change, loss of biodiversity and proliferation of invasive alien species, some of which are caused by direct human exploitation. A Land Cover/Land Use Change (LCLUC) detection approach based on PCA and vegetation indices derived from low cost high-resolution RapidEye multispectral satellite data and available vegetation maps was developed to assess vegetated/forested aboveground carbon stocks and their changes in Madeira Island, Portugal, for the period between December 2009 and August 2011 due to catastrophic events occurred in 2010. During this period, the identified LCLUC revealed a relevant decrease of vegetated areas (especially those dominated by native/endemic communities) substituted by increases of non-vegetated and human-managed vegetated/forested areas. In particular, there was a decrease of 2% of vegetated areas, 30% of which were represented by native/endemic vegetation. The largest and most accurate LCLUC detected were used to estimate changes in aboveground biomass carbon (AGC) stocks. In 2010 more than 25,000 Mg of AGC stocks may have been released. Both relevant LCLUC and AGC stocks depletion in such short period of time may have been strongly enhanced by two catastrophic events that affected Madeira in February (flashflood and landslides) and August 2010 (wildfires). This straightforward and cost-effective methodological approach may be successfully applied in remote territories such as islands or mountainous areas, where the logistic and economic costs associated to periodic and standard airborne remote sensing campaigns for mapping, assessing and monitoring aboveground biomass carbon stocks are generally unaffordable for most decision-makers and land managers in these territories.