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Keywords:

  • Agricultural development;
  • cropland;
  • DGVM;
  • EMIC;
  • ESM;
  • historical population;
  • human impact;
  • IPCC;
  • land use;
  • pasture

ABSTRACT

Aim  This paper presents a tool for long-term global change studies; it is an update of the History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE) with estimates of some of the underlying demographic and agricultural driving factors.

Methods  Historical population, cropland and pasture statistics are combined with satellite information and specific allocation algorithms (which change over time) to create spatially explicit maps, which are fully consistent on a 5′ longitude/latitude grid resolution, and cover the period 10,000 bc to ad 2000.

Results  Cropland occupied roughly less than 1% of the global ice-free land area for a long time until ad 1000, similar to the area used for pasture. In the centuries that followed, the share of global cropland increased to 2% in ad 1700 (c. 3 million km2) and 11% in ad 2000 (15 million km2), while the share of pasture area grew from 2% in ad 1700 to 24% in ad 2000 (34 million km2) These profound land-use changes have had, and will continue to have, quite considerable consequences for global biogeochemical cycles, and subsequently global climate change.

Main conclusions  Some researchers suggest that humans have shifted from living in the Holocene (emergence of agriculture) into the Anthropocene (humans capable of changing the Earth's atmosphere) since the start of the Industrial Revolution. But in the light of the sheer size and magnitude of some historical land-use changes (e.g. as result of the depopulation of Europe due to the Black Death in the 14th century and the aftermath of the colonization of the Americas in the 16th century) we believe that this point might have occurred earlier in time. While there are still many uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge about the importance of land use (change) in the global biogeochemical cycle, we hope that this database can help global (climate) change modellers to close parts of this gap.