Anthropogenic land-use and land-cover change activities play a critical role in Earth system dynamics through significant alterations to biogeophysical and biogeochemical properties at local to global scales. To quantify the magnitude of these impacts, climate models need consistent land-cover change time series at a global scale, based on land-use information from observations or dedicated land-use change models. However, a specific land-use change cannot be unambiguously mapped to a specific land-cover change. Here, nine translation rules are evaluated based on assumptions about the way land-use change could potentially impact land cover.
Utilizing the Global Land-use Model 2 (GLM2), the model underlying the latest Land-Use Harmonization dataset (LUH2), the land-cover dynamics resulting from land-use change were simulated based on multiple alternative translation rules from 850 to 2015 globally. For each rule, the resulting forest cover, carbon density and carbon emissions were compared with independent estimates from remote sensing observations, U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization reports, and other studies. The translation rule previously suggested by the authors of the HYDE 3.2 dataset, that underlies LUH2, is consistent with the results of our examinations at global, country and grid scales. This rule recommends that for CMIP6 simulations, models should (1) completely clear vegetation in land-use changes from primary and secondary land (including both forested and non-forested) to cropland, urban land and managed pasture; (2) completely clear vegetation in land-use changes from primary forest and/or secondary forest to rangeland; (3) keep vegetation in land-use changes from primary non-forest and/or secondary non-forest to rangeland.
Our analysis shows that this rule is one of three (out of nine) rules that produce comparable estimates of forest cover, vegetation carbon and emissions to independent estimates and also mitigate the anomalously high carbon emissions from land-use change observed in previous studies in the 1950s. According to the three translation rules, contemporary global forest area is estimated to be 37.42×106 km2, within the range derived from remote sensing products. Likewise, the estimated carbon stock is in close agreement with reference biomass datasets, particularly over regions with more than 50 % forest cover.