MSU received $750K grant from NASA to study urbanization and sustainability

In 2015, the MSU Center for Global Change and Earth Observations received three years of funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study Urbanization and Sustainability Under Global Change and Transitional Economies.

Mixed administrative, residential and commercial land uses in downtown Yangon, China. Photo by MSU SENA.

In January 2015, the Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Global Change and Earth Observations (CGCEO) received three years of funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study “Urbanization and Sustainability Under Global Change and Transitional Economies: Synthesis from Southeast, East and North Asia (SENA).” The study will conclude in 2018.

Building upon previous research on urban systems in the region, rich databases of collaborators, and diverse experience and expertise of team members, the purpose of this $750K grant is to synthesize the data and knowledge on urban sustainability to the socio-economic transformation and changing climate in transitional economies in SENA.

Urban & Regional Planning Program’s Associate Professor Peilei Fan, from the School of Planning, Design and Construction and CGCEO, leads the project with Jiquan Chen, professor from the CGCEO and the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences (GEO). Zutao Yang, GEO postdoctoral research associate, is also part of the team.

This study focuses on four specific hypotheses to link key socio-economic and biophysical drivers, especially institutional mechanism unique in transitional economies and global climate change, for the spatiotemporal changes of urbanization and urban sustainability in these countries.

Three tasks will also be performed:

  • Data Integration: A comprehensive database of LCLUC (the NASA Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program), socio-economics, and environmental variables for the 17 cities at multiple spatial and temporal scales from a variety of sources will be constructed.
  • Knowledge Synthesis: Quantitative indices for spatial, human and natural systems of 17 cities will be constructed. Statistical and modeling analyses will be used to quantify the interactions and feedbacks, generating new knowledge of the co-evolution of LCLUCs, human systems and natural systems for the urban environments in transitional economies.
  • Forecast Synthesis: The team will model and predict the changes of the urban LCLUC, human and natural systems beyond 2016 with sound scenarios of climate and land cover changes, populations, economic growth, and possible planning and policies.

Two workshops were held in the region (in Yangon and Ho Chi Minh City) to assist the team in gathering expert opinions from policy makers and local collaborators on plausible scenarios and to exchange ideas with a larger and broader academic and policy community. In June 2017, a third and final workshop will take place in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to conclude the synthesis effort. To date the project team has published eight articles in high-impact academic journals, including Landscape and Urban Planning, Environmental Research, Remote Sensing, and Landscape Ecology.

This project will not only provide a solid base for further research and education on urbanization and sustainability in the SENA region through the integrated spatial, socio-economic and environmental database, but will also contribute to MSU’s knowledge on driving forces from human and natural perspectives for urban LCLUC and ecosystems of other regions, especially on those under the mounting pressure of global change and the unique institutional factors of transitioning economies. The project has direct policy implications for cities in transitional economies as it will assist us moving toward urban sustainability under future climate change and growth conditions.

Work and more information about this study is available online at SENA. For more information about this study, please contact Peilei Fan at

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