The underpinnings of land-use history: three centuries of global gridded land-use transitions, wood-harvest activity, and resulting secondary lands


G. C. Hurtt, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA, tel. +603 –862 1792, fax +603 –862 0188, e-mail:


To accurately assess the impacts of human land use on the Earth system, information is needed on the current and historical patterns of land-use activities. Previous global studies have focused on developing reconstructions of the spatial patterns of agriculture. Here, we provide the first global gridded estimates of the underlying land conversions (land-use transitions), wood harvesting, and resulting secondary lands annually, for the period 1700–2000. Using data-based historical cases, our results suggest that 42–68% of the land surface was impacted by land-use activities (crop, pasture, wood harvest) during this period, some multiple times. Secondary land area increased 10–44 × 106 km2; about half of this was forested. Wood harvest and shifting cultivation generated 70–90% of the secondary land by 2000; permanent abandonment and relocation of agricultural land accounted for the rest. This study provides important new estimates of globally gridded land-use activities for studies attempting to assess the consequences of anthropogenic changes to the Earth's surface over time.