Deforestation and the Transformation of the Landscape of North China: prehistory - present

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Virginia Tech

Environmental evidence shows that 10,000 years ago North China was primarily a lush deciduous forest. Like many other regions of the planet, this landscape has been dramatically transformed by human activity, yet unusually this mostly occurred long ago under pre-industrial conditions.

Fortunately China has a long recorded history of human activity. Complementary environmental evidence helps to extend this record into prehistory, for even prehistoric Chinese substantially altered their environment. The first half of this study examines historical and physical evidence in order to better explain how North China's forests disappeared.

Only recently have there been regional scale activities focused on reversing this tragic trend. Despite many claims of successes in afforestation, there are serious shortcomings in the collection of government statistics and known limitations to area-based forest assessments, so it is difficult to say with much confidence what is happening with North China's forests today.

Phenological measurements from space-based instruments have been effectively used to characterize vegetation trends. In the second half of this study, MODIS sensor observations for 2000-2009 are collected for five study sites and are used to characterize vegetation change over the past decade, independent of government statistics and area-based estimates.

Forests provide tangible benefits to environmental and human well-being. Forest health and growth are critical to addressing global climate change. Much attention has been focused on China's efforts to combat deforestation. A better understanding of North China's forest trends — both past and present — may offer valuable lessons for our environmental future.

climate change, China, deforestation, vegetation index, phenology