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Volume 9, issue 2 | Copyright
Earth Syst. Dynam., 9, 441-458, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 03 May 2018

Research article | 03 May 2018

A global assessment of gross and net land change dynamics for current conditions and future scenarios

Richard Fuchs1,2, Reinhard Prestele1, and Peter H. Verburg1,3 Richard Fuchs et al.
  • 1Environmental Geography group, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 2Land Use Change group, Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research – Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) – Campus Alpin, Kreuzeckbahnstraße 19, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 3Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

Abstract. The consideration of gross land changes, meaning all area gains and losses within a pixel or administrative unit (e.g. country), plays an essential role in the estimation of total land changes. Gross land changes affect the magnitude of total land changes, which feeds back to the attribution of biogeochemical and biophysical processes related to climate change in Earth system models. Global empirical studies on gross land changes are currently lacking. Whilst the relevance of gross changes for global change has been indicated in the literature, it is not accounted for in future land change scenarios. In this study, we extract gross and net land change dynamics from large-scale and high-resolution (30–100m) remote sensing products to create a new global gross and net change dataset. Subsequently, we developed an approach to integrate our empirically derived gross and net changes with the results of future simulation models by accounting for the gross and net change addressed by the land use model and the gross and net change that is below the resolution of modelling. Based on our empirical data, we found that gross land change within 0.5° grid cells was substantially larger than net changes in all parts of the world. As 0.5° grid cells are a standard resolution of Earth system models, this leads to an underestimation of the amount of change. This finding contradicts earlier studies, which assumed gross land changes to appear in shifting cultivation areas only. Applied in a future scenario, the consideration of gross land changes led to approximately 50% more land changes globally compared to a net land change representation. Gross land changes were most important in heterogeneous land systems with multiple land uses (e.g. shifting cultivation, smallholder farming, and agro-forestry systems). Moreover, the importance of gross changes decreased over time due to further polarization and intensification of land use. Our results serve as an empirical database for land change dynamics that can be applied in Earth system models and integrated assessment models.

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Short summary
We analysed current global land change dynamics based on high-resolution (30–100 m) remote sensing products. We integrated these empirical data into a future simulation model to assess global land change dynamics in the future (2000 to 2040). The consideration of empirically derived land change dynamics in future models led globally to ca. 50 % more land changes than currently assumed in state-of-the-art models. This impacts the results of other global change studies (e.g. climate change).
We analysed current global land change dynamics based on high-resolution (30–100 m) remote...