27 Jan 2021

27 Jan 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESSD.

A historical reconstruction of cropland in China from 1900 to 2016

Zhen Yu1, Xiaobin Jin2, Lijuan Miao3, and Xuhong Yang2 Zhen Yu et al.
  • 1Key Laboratory of Agrometeorology of Jiangsu Province, Institute of Ecology, School of Applied Meteorology, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, Nanjing, 210044, China
  • 2School of Geography and Ocean Science, Nanjing University, Nanjing, 210023, China
  • 3School of Geographical Sciences, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, Nanjing, 210044, China

Abstract. A spatially-explicit cropland distribution time-series dataset is the basis for the accurate assessment of biogeochemical processes in terrestrial ecosystems and their feedback to the climate system; however, this type of dataset is lacking in China. Existing cropland maps have a coarse resolution, are intermittently covered, or the data are inconsistent. We reconstructed a continuously covered cropland distribution dataset in China spanning from 1900 to 2016 by assimilating multiple data sources. In total, national cropland acreage expanded from 77.72 Mha in 1900 to the peak of 151.00 Mha in 1979, but it consistently decreased thereafter to 134.92 Mha in 2016. The cropland was primarily distributed in three historically cultivated plains in China: the Sichuan Plain, the Northern China Plain, and the Northeast China Plain. Cropland abandonment was approximately 29.90 Mha; it was mainly concentrated in the Northern China Plain and the Sichuan Plain and occurred during the 1990–2010 period. Cropland expansion was over 74.30 Mha; it was primarily found in the southeast, northern central, and northeast regions of China and occurred before 1950. In comparison, the national total and spatial-distribution of cropland in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE) were distorted during the period of 1960–1980 due to the biased signal from the Chinese Agricultural Yearbook. We advocate that newly reconstructed cropland data, in which the bias has been corrected, should be used as the updated data for regional and global assessments, such as greenhouse gas emission accountings and food production simulations. The cropland dataset is available via an open-data repository ( (Yu et al., 2020).

Zhen Yu et al.

Status: open (until 10 Apr 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on essd-2020-382', Xin Deng, 05 Mar 2021 reply
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Zhen Yu, 06 Mar 2021 reply

Zhen Yu et al.

Data sets Zhen Yu, Xiaobin Jin, Lijuan Miao, and Xuhong Yang

Zhen Yu et al.


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Short summary
We reconstructed the annual cropland percentage map at 5 km × 5 km resolution covering mainland China spanning from 1900 to 2016. Our results are advantaged in reconciling accuracy, temporal coverage, and spatial resolutions. We further examined the cropland shift pattern and its driving factors in China using the reconstructed maps. This work will greatly contribute to the field of global ecology and land surface modeling.