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Land cover change can exert a crucial effect on the terrestrial carbon cycle. To estimate changes in the carbon pools and carbon fluxes to the atmosphere, Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) data of 1992 and 1996 were used to calculate the extent of different land cover types and their changes in the estuary area of the Yellow River delta. Image processing and the unsupervised classification allowed accurate land cover maps for 1992 and 1996 to be generated, by which the changes in the carbon pools were detected. Estimation of the carbon pools and the carbon fluxes to the atmosphere was carried out employing the results of Landsat image analysis and the published data on carbon stocks in vegetation and soil. By calculating the area changed between different types of vegetation and their different carbon stocks, the quantity of the terrestrial carbon cycle in the estuary area of the Yellow River delta was acquired. The results shows that the vegetation carbon storage was 11.43×1011 g and soil carbon pool 7.24×1012 g in 1992, and the vegetation carbon pool increased by 3.77×1011 g during the 4 years from 1992 to 1996.