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In 1978, the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region in southern China had a population of just under 10 million. The population was scattered between several medium-sized cities on an interlacing network of rivers and streams.

Some of those cites have become megacities, and the entire region has merged into one continuous, if scattered, megalopolis with a combined population greater than the six U.S. New England states plus New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The PRD now has a population higher than Tokyo, making it the world’s largest urban area.

In 1978, China began new economic policies that loosened regulation for migrating within the country, and people either moved permanently to cities to find work in industry or moved there temporarily for seasonal work. In-migration has been the largest contributor to the rapid population rise. The new model also opened up the country to foreign investment and less government control on private businesses.

Landsat’s long record and spatial resolution make it ideal for mapping change in areas that are urbanizing rapidly, such as the Pearl River Delta. Urban area growth dominates the later images in this Landsat time series.

Municipalities and Special Administrative Regions of the Pearl River Delta

2022 estimated population

Shenzhen 17,619,000
Dongguan 10,646,000
Zhongshan 4,072,000
Jiangmen 1,583,000
Huizhou 1,874,000
Zhuhai 2,290,000
Guangzhou and Foshan 26,940,000
Zhaoqing 791,000
Hong Kong 7,450,000
Macau 717,000
Total for the PRD cities 73,982,000*

* For comparison, the population of Tokyo is 37,732,000

Imagery

Every picture has a story to tell
Dec. 25, 1973, Landsat 1 (path/row 131/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Nov. 3, 1986, Landsat 5 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Nov. 9, 1994, Landsat 5 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Sep. 14, 2000, Landsat 7 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Oct. 22, 2005, Landsat 5 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Nov. 2, 2009, Landsat 5 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Oct. 23, 2017, Landsat 8 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Nov. 14, 2019, Landsat 8 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Oct. 21, 2022, Landsat 8 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China
Oct. 21, 2022, Landsat 8 (path/row 122/44) — Pearl River Delta, China

Correlated

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References

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