, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 454-467,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 23 Mar 2010

Coupling GIS and LCA for biodiversity assessments of land use

Abstract

Purpose

Geospatial details about land use are necessary to assess its potential impacts on biodiversity. Geographic information systems (GIS) are adept at modeling land use in a spatially explicit manner, while life cycle assessment (LCA) does not conventionally utilize geospatial information. This study presents a proof-of-concept approach for coupling GIS and LCA for biodiversity assessments of land use and applies it to a case study of ethanol production from agricultural crops in California.

Materials and methods

GIS modeling was used to generate crop production scenarios for corn and sugar beets that met a range of ethanol production targets. The selected study area was a four-county region in the southern San Joaquin Valley of California, USA. The resulting land use maps were translated into maps of habitat types. From these maps, vectors were created that contained the total areas for each habitat type in the study region. These habitat compositions are treated as elementary input flows and used to calculate different biodiversity impact indicators in a second paper (Geyer et al., submitted).

Results and discussion

Ten ethanol production scenarios were developed with GIS modeling. Current land use is added as baseline scenario. The parcels selected for corn and sugar beet production were generally in different locations. Moreover, corn and sugar beets are classified as different habitat types. Consequently, the scenarios differed in both the habitat types converted and in the habitat types expanded. Importantly, land use increased nonlinearly with increasing ethanol production targets. The GIS modeling for this study used spatial data that are commonly available in most developed countries and only required functions that are provided in virtually any commercial or open-source GIS software package.

Conclusions

This study has demonstrated that GIS-based inventory modeling of land use allows important refinements in LCA theory and practice. Using GIS, land use can be modeled as a geospatial and nonlinear function of output. For each spatially explicit process, land use can be expressed within the conventional structure of LCA methodology as a set of elementary input flows of habitat types.

Responsible editor: Llorenc Milà i Canals

Preamble

The present paper is the first in a series of two that demonstrate the potential of coupling geographic information system (GIS) technology with LCA for assessing biodiversity impacts of land use. This first paper demonstrates the use of GIS-based inventory modeling to generate elementary input flows of habitat types. The second paper presents four different characterization models that are applied to the habitat flows to calculate biodiversity impact indicators.