These simulations are examples of how global land-use changed from 1700 to 1990. The human-disturbed landscape includes intensive cropland (red), and marginal cropland used for grazing (pink). Other landscape includes, for example, tropical evergreen and deciduous forest (dark green), savanna (light green), grassland and steppe (yellow), open shrubland (maroon), temperate deciduous forest (blue), temperate needleleaf evergreen forest (light yellow), and hot desert (orange). Of particular importance in this paper is the expansion of the cropland and grazed land between 1700 and 1900. Credit: from Klein Goldewijk, K., 2001: Estimating global land use change over the past 300 years: The HYDE Database. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 15, 417-433
Global Land Use in 1990
Credit: from Klein Goldewijk, K., 2001: Estimating global land use change over the past 300 years: The HYDE Database. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 15, 417-433
While many scientists and policy makers have focused only on how heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide are altering our global climate, a new NASA-funded study points to the importance of also including human-caused land-use changes as a major factor contributing to climate change.
Land surface changes, like urban sprawl, deforestation and reforestation, and agricultural and irrigation practices strongly affect regional surface temperatures, precipitation and larger-scale atmospheric circulation. The study argues that human-caused land surface changes in places like North America, Europe, and southeast Asia, redistribute heat regionally and globally within the atmosphere and may actually have a greater impact on climate than that due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases combined.
The study also proposes a new method for comparing different human-influenced agents of climate change in terms of the redistribution of heat over land and in the atmosphere. Using a single unit of measurement may open the door to future work that more accurately represents human-caused climate change.
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