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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School


First Advisor

Mark Cochrane


The African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) has been an important crop in Brazil’s Amazonian agricultural landscape for over 20 years. This palm, from which the precious palm oil is extracted, has grown in global significance over the last several decades; it has recently surpassed soybean oil and is now the world’s primary vegetable oil. The oil has many other important uses including soap, cosmetics, industrial lubricants, animal feed, and increasingly biofuel. Mapping oil palm’s expansion in the Brazilian Amazon is a critical step in understanding land use and land cover change dynamics regarding expanding oil palm cultivation, but gaps remain in official data and production records, and formal and accurate maps of oil palm plantations are few. This study employs a straightforward, strictly visual approach to oil palm detection on satellite imagery, while past studies performed land cover classifications, utilized complex algorithms, or regression models to automatically detect oil palm. Visual analysis of Landsat images from 1997 to 2013 revealed a portion of Brazil’s rapidly expanding oil palm landscape. Overall, the total area in oil palm in the study area increased nearly 500% after 1997. The yearly growth rate of new land in oil palm from 1997 to 2013 averaged 16.5%. The number of new parcels of oil palm increased an average of 37% per year. The mean size of oil palm parcels decreased almost 50% since 1997, or an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2013. These findings expose a much greater area of the crop than current data reflects. These discrepancies can hinder our understanding of the dynamic nature of the human – environment relationship in the rapidly changing Amazonian agricultural frontier, in addition to impairing future land use planning in terms of infrastructure development, biodiversity conservation, and resource management. Oil palm plantations are rapidly expanding across the Amazon, and will likely continue to do so, but their expansion depends on local, regional, and national policies and economic incentives surrounding oil palm cultivation, and the legal interactions with the recently revised Forest Code that guides rural land use in Brazil.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Oil palm -- Amazon River Region Oil palm -- Brazil Land use mapping -- Amazon River Region Land use mapping -- Brazil Deforestation -- Amazon River Region Deforestation -- Brazil


Includes bibliographical references (pages 87-93)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright