Characterizing the Patterns and Trends of Urban Growth in Saudi Arabia’s 13 Capital Cities Using a Landsat Time Series


Development and a growing population in Saudi Arabia have led to a substantial increase in the size of its urban areas. This sustained development has increased policymakers’ need for reliable data and analysis regarding the patterns and trends of urban expansion throughout the country. Although previous studies on urban growth in Saudi cities exist, there has been no comprehensive research that focused on all 13 regional capitals within the country. Our study addressed this gap by producing a new annual long-term dataset of 30 m spatial resolution that covered 35 years (1985–2019) and maintained a high overall accuracy of annual classifications across the study period, ranging between 93 and 98%. Utilizing the continuous change detection and classification (CCDC) algorithm and all available Landsat data, we classified Landsat pixels into urban and non-urban classes with an annual frequency and quantified urban land cover change over these 35 years. We implemented a stratified random sampling design to assess the accuracy of the annual classifications and the multi-temporal urban change. The results revealed that Saudi capitals experienced massive urban growth, from 1305.28 ± 348.71 km2 in 1985 to 2704.94 ± 554.04 km2 in 2019 (± values represent the 95% confidence intervals). In addition to the high accuracy of the annual classifications, the overall accuracy of the multi-temporal urban change map was also high and reached 91%. The urban expansion patterns varied from city to city and from year to year. Most capital cities showed clear growth patterns of edge development, that is, a continuous expansion of built-up lands radiating from existing urban areas. This study provides distinct insights into the urban expansion characteristics of each city in Saudi Arabia and a synoptic view of the country as a whole over the past four decades. Our results provided a dataset that can be used as the foundation for future socioeconomic and environmental studies.


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CCDC, land use and land cover change, Landsat, Saudi Arabia, stratified sampling, time series, urban growth


Aljaddani, A.H., Song, X.-P., & Zhu, Z.. 2022. Characterizing the Patterns and Trends of Urban Growth in Saudi Arabia’s 13 Capital Cities Using a Landsat Time Series. Remote Sensing, 14(10).