Combining remote sensing and ground census data to develop new maps of the distribution of rice agriculture in China



[1] Large-scale assessments of the potential for food production and its impact on biogeochemical cycling require the best possible information on the distribution of cropland. This information can come from ground-based agricultural census data sets and/or spaceborne remote sensing products, both with strengths and weaknesses. Official cropland statistics for China contain much information on the distribution of crop types, but are known to significantly underestimate total cropland areas and are generally at coarse spatial resolution. Remote sensing products can provide moderate to fine spatial resolution estimates of cropland location and extent, but supply little information on crop type or management. We combined county-scale agricultural census statistics on total cropland area and sown area of 17 major crops in 1990 with a fine-resolution land-cover map derived from 1995–1996 optical remote sensing (Landsat) data to generate 0.5° resolution maps of the distribution of rice agriculture in mainland China. Agricultural census data were used to determine the fraction of crop area in each 0.5° grid cell that was in single rice and each of 10 different multicrop paddy rice rotations (e.g., winter wheat/rice), while the remote sensing land-cover product was used to determine the spatial distribution and extent of total cropland in China. We estimate that there were 0.30 million km2 of paddy rice cropland; 75% of this paddy land was multicropped, and 56% had two rice plantings per year. Total sown area for paddy rice was 0.47 million km2. Paddy rice agriculture occurred on 23% of all cultivated land in China.