China's land cover and land use change from 1700 to 2005: Estimations from high-resolution satellite data and historical archives

Authors

  • Mingliang Liu,

    1. Ecosystem Dynamics and Global Ecology Laboratory and International Center for Climate and Global Change Research, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA
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  • Hanqin Tian

    1. Ecosystem Dynamics and Global Ecology Laboratory and International Center for Climate and Global Change Research, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA
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Abstract

[1] One of the major limitations in assessing the impacts of human activities on global biogeochemical cycles and climate is a shortage of reliable data on historical land cover and land use change (LCLUC). China had extreme discrepancies in estimating contemporary and historical patterns of LCLUC over the last 3 centuries because of its geographical complexity, long history of land use, and limited national surveys. This study aims to characterize the spatial and temporal patterns of China's LCLUC during 1700–2005 by reconstructing historical gridded data sets from high-resolution satellite data and long-term historical survey data. During this 300 year period, the major characteristics of LCLUC in China have been shrinking forest (decreased by 22%) and expanding cropland (increased by 42%) and urban areas (including urban and rural settlements, factories, quarries, mining, and other built-up land). New cropland areas have come almost equally from both forested and nonforested land. This study also revealed that substantial conversion between forest and woodland can be attributed to forest harvest, forest regeneration, and land degradation. During 1980–2005, LCLUC was characterized by shrinking cropland, expanding urban and forest areas, and large decadal variations on a national level. LCLUC in China showed significant spatial variations during different time periods, which were caused by spatial heterogeneity in vegetation, soils, and climate and regional imbalance in economy development. During 1700–2005, forests shrunk rapidly while croplands expanded in the northeast and southwest of China. During 1980–2005, we found a serious loss of cropland and urban sprawl in the eastern plain, north, and southeast regions of China and a large increase in forested area in the southeast and southwest regions. The reconstructed LCLUC data sets from this study could be used to assess the impacts of land use change on biogeochemical cycles, the water cycle, and the regional climate in China. To further eliminate uncertainties in this data set and make reliable projections of LCLUC for the future, we need to improve our understanding of the drivers of LCLUC and work toward developing an advanced, spatially explicit land use model.

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