Continuous tree distribution in China: A comparison of two estimates from Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and Landsat data



[1] Forest change is a major contributor to changes in carbon stocks and trace gas fluxes between terrestrial and atmospheric layers. This study compares two satellite estimates of percent tree distribution data sets over China. One estimate is from the Chinese National Land Cover Data Set (NLCD) generated by a multiyear national land cover project in China through visual interpretation of Landsat thematic mapper (TM) and the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) images primarily acquired in the year 2000. The other estimate is the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) standard product (MOD44B) from the same year. The two products reveal some common features, but significant discrepancies exist. Detailed analyses are carried out with different land cover types and over different regions. Comparison results show that the difference of the total tree canopy area for the whole country is 159,000 km2. The pixel counts in the NLCD data set for dense forest are ∼4 times those in the MODIS data set with the reverse holding for sparse forest. Generally, the percent tree canopy area of the NLCD data set is larger in eastern China and lower in the Tibetan plateau margin region. For different land cover types the percentage of tree canopy areas shows a good agreement for evergreen forests but a large discrepancy for deciduous forests. The largest variations are associated with grassland and nonvegetation classes. Regarding the spatial distributions of their differences, Inner Mongolia is the place where both data sets show a diverse result, but Guizhou and Fujian present the least divergence among those provinces with the tree canopy area being more than 20,000 km2.