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Update October 2017

Important update from WG coordinators: achievements of the past year and plans ahead.

Picture G-LAND MJGaillard oct 2014

The cultural landscape of the Shandong province, China, with abandoned terraces, cultivated terraces, and pine woods. Area of an ongoing study of the pollen productivity of herbs as indicators of human land use (Li, Gaillard et al.). Credit: M-J Gaillard, Oct 2014.

Adequate incorporation of land cover in global and regional climate models is still one of the major priorities in the climate modeling community. In particular, anthropogenic land cover change (ALCC) is still not successfully implemented in these models. As a result, climate modeling in paleo-mode or projection mode that tries to take ALCC into account is seriously hampered (Strandberg et al. 2014).

This is due to the fact that:

i) the dynamic vegetation models coupled to global climate models (GCMs) or regional climate models (RCMs) simulate climate-induced vegetation (i.e. potential, natural vegetation) but cannot yet simulate anthropogenic vegetation, and

ii) the scenarios of past ALCC, e.g. HYDE (Klein Goldewijk et al. 2011), KK (Kaplan et al. 2009) and others, show very large differences (Gaillard et al. 2010).

The question of whether humans had more impact on climate in prehistory (from 3k BP or earlier) than previously assumed, is still a matter of debate. Thus, the effect of anthropogenic burning and deforestation on global climate via biogeochemical and biogeophysical processes in the past is not fully understood yet, and mitigation strategies using e.g. tree plantations to create CO2 sinks and climate cooling might be erroneous. Improved descriptions of past anthropogenic land cover change at the global spatial scale are therefore needed.

LandCover6k addresses land-cover change across the globe that is climate-induced, natural, AND human-induced due to anthropogenic land use from ca. 1-2 millenia before the start of agriculture. The start of agriculture is dated to ca. 6000 calendar years BP in Europe, but is significantly older in East Asia, e.g. in China at ca. 8000 cal. years BP. Therefore, LandCover6k's efforts are NOT restricted to the last 6000 cal. years, but will cover the last ca. 10000 cal. years However, the time of most significant deforestation globally is assumed to start at ca. 4000 cal. years ago in East Asia and ca. 3000 cal. years ago in Europe.

LandCover6k builds upon, and expands, the pollen-based reconstruction work of PAGES' Focus 4 theme, Land Use and Cover (see e.g. Trondman et al. 2015; Pirzamanbein et al. 2014). It brings together paleoecologists, historians, archeologists, and modelers to explore and provide new information about ALCC. It aims to create products suitable for climate modelers and climate change policy makers.

Expected products

The planned products of LandCover6k are:

Product A: Largely improved HYDE and KK models for the Holocene using land-use and land-cover reconstructions from paleoecological data and historical/archeological data (Products B below)

Product B: Land-cover and land-use maps for time windows and/or periods of the Holocene.

Land Cover
and Land Use represent the two activities of LandCover6k, these are defined as follows:

Land cover = vegetation cover

Land use = categories of land-use systems inferred from archeological and historical data (with the complement of paleoecological data, e.g. pollen and plant macrofossils, phytoliths etc.)

The Land Cover and Land Use products (in B above) will be integrated and used to achieve product A above.

The Land Cover activity is coordinated by Marie-José Gaillard (Linnaeus University, Sweden) and the Land Use activity by Kathleen Morrison (University of Chicago, USA). The University of Chicago's Program on the Global Environment (PGE) supports the webpage of the Land Use activity, See also our People page for more information on the organisation of the Landcover6k working group

Phase 1

Phase 1 (2015-2017) of the working group will focus on the following activities and products for three priority time windows of the Holocene: 6k, 0.45k (AD 1500), and 0.1k cal. BP (AD 1850):

- Pollen-based land-cover reconstructions / maps from key regions of all continents

- Global land-use maps based on archeological and historical data

- First revision of ALCC (Anthropogenic Land-Cover Change) scenarios (KK and HYDE)


Following community agreement at the October 2015 land use workshop in Paris, the land use group of LandCover6k plans to create a single global database of land use types and land use variables relevant to biogeochemical and biogeophysical change. Regional working groups have already started making test maps. Data, metadata and maps are designed to be made public. Land use maps will be corrected and improved through a process of expert commentary and crowd-sourcing, a critical step given the size and dispersal of the scholarly community studying human land use. Currently, working groups are developing more detailed land use categories and specifics of the land use variable coding.

Learn more about LandUse6k here:

For more information on the LandUse6k element of the LandCover6k project, contact Kathleen Morrison.

Learn more and participate

Read the latest LandCover6k news here.

Subscribe to the LandCover6k mailing list here.

This group is open to anyone who is interested in being involved, to participate contact the Coordinator.