Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biological and Environmental Sciences (MSBES)


Interdepartmental Program

First Advisor

Yeqiao Wang


Stone walls are relics of an agricultural civilization that once flourished in New England. By identifying the locations of both historical and present day stone walls, compositions of post-agricultural landscapes common across the New England region can be assessed with inclusion of historic human-land use interactions. I selected the town of New Shoreham, known as Block Island, as the study site for this thesis. Block Island is located approximately 14.5 km south of the Rhode Island mainland. The Island has rich land use history which resulted in an extensive network of stone walls still present across the landscape. Through visual image interpretation of 0.5 ft (0.1524 m) resolution orthophotography collected in the spring of 2011 and a historical topographic map from 1900, I created two datasets of stone walls containing total lengths of 260.6 km and 349.1 km, respectively. Analysis of these two datasets allowed for a temporal analysis to then creation three additional datasets containing stone walls between 1900 and 2011 which were matching, removed and built.

The presence of stone walls on Block Island was quantified in connection to ancillary Geographic Information System (GIS) data, representing both natural and anthropogenic classifications of the landscape. The natural landscape is represented by land use and land cover (LULC) available for 1988, 1995, 2003/04 and 2011. Data of LULC were further quantified for land cover change frequency (LCCF); the number of land cover changes occurring within each 45 m pixel between 1988 and 2011. The anthropogenic landscape is distinguished by the parcel boundaries for New Shoreham as of 2013 and protected open space as of 2013.

The 2011 dataset of stone walls was quantified for stone wall distribution among each land cover class for the temporal range, finding a higher abundance of stone walls within agricultural lands for 1988 and 1995 and urban lands from 1995 through 2011. The 2011 stone wall dataset was also quantified for distribution among each land LCCF class to find a higher proportion of stone walls contained within lands with the greatest frequency of land cover change. A strong relationship exists between the coincidence of stone walls and the boundaries of land parcels. Approximately 81% of parcels are in part bordered by a stone wall from the 2011 dataset. Additionally, over 50% of the lengths stone walls within the 5 datasets of stone walls are bordering parcel boundaries, with the more current datasets of 2011, matching and built having over 80% of their lengths adjacent to the boundaries of 2013 parcels. Lastly, at least 37% of the stone walls current as of 2011 are expected to remain untouched due to being contained within land designated as protected open space.

Stone walls represent a human component, among the many broad factors which generate the composition of landscape mosaics. By utilizing abilities of GIS technologies to identify stone walls for a large geographic area, this research models initial exploration of the relationship between this historical feature and the landscape it continues to reside within. Additionally, this work adds justification to continue the integration of remote sensing technologies and human’s cultural histories in studying driving factors of land cover change and anthropogenic landscape characterization.



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