Fifteen Years of Fragmentation and Land Cover Change in India’s Ten Largest Cities – A Google Earth Engine Analysis

Cities and the Environment (CATE),


Urbanisation is one of the most transformative drivers of global environmental change today, with India representing one of the fastest urbanising countries. The researchers map the urban expansion of India’s ten largest cities from 2001 to 2016, through a regression tree classification of Landsat data in Google Earth Engine. Indian cities are growing through sprawl, and simultaneously densifying through in-filling. In Delhi, Mumbai and Pune, urban growth is multinucleated, aggregating to form a larger urban region. However, the dominant pattern in most cities is mono-nucleated growth via edge-expansion. The colonial signature is visible in many cities such as Bengaluru, where due to the British colonial practice of planting trees in the cantonment, the city interior has lower urban density at the core as compared to the periphery. Much of the urban growth between 2001 – 2016 is at the expense of agriculture and fallow areas. Across all cities, urban patches have expanded and coalesced into larger units. At the same time, there is an overall loss of surface water cover within cities. Urban growth has led to fragmentation of tree cover, agriculture/​fallow and water bodies. This paper demonstrates that India’s urbanisation is leading to severe impacts on water security (because of the loss of surface water), biodiversity (because of the fragmentation of tree cover and the conversion of agriculture and fallow lands to built-up urban cover), factors which if left unaddressed will severely impact the sustainability of Indian urbanisation.