18 May 2022
18 May 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESSD.

Four-century history of land transformation by humans in the United States: 1630–2020

Xiaoyong Li1,2,3, Hanqin Tian2, Shufen Pan2, and Chaoqun Lu4 Xiaoyong Li et al.
  • 1State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China
  • 2International Center for Climate and Global Change Research, College of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, USA
  • 3University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • 4Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50010, USA

Abstract. The land of the conterminous United States (CONUS) has been transformed dramatically by humans over the last four centuries through land clearing, agricultural land expansion and intensification, and urban sprawl. Spatial-temporal data on long-term historical changes in land use and land cover (LULC) across the CONUS is essential for understanding and predicting the dynamics of coupled natural-human systems. A few efforts have focused on reconstructing historical databases to characterize changes in cropland and urban extent in the CONUS. However, the high-resolution and long-term trajectories of multiple land use types remain unclear. By integrating multi-source data, such as high-resolution remote sensing image-based LULC data, model-based LULC products, and historical census data, we reconstructed LULC history at an annual time scale and 1 km x 1 km spatial resolution for the CONUS in the past 390 years (1630–2020). The results show widespread expansion of cropland and urban land associated with rapid loss of natural vegetation. Newly reclaimed croplands are mainly converted from forest, shrubland, and grassland, especially in the Great Plains and North Central. Forest planting and regeneration accelerated the forest recovery in the Northeast and Southeast since the 1920s. The geospatial and long-term historical land use data from this study can be applied to assess the LULC impacts on regional climate, hydrology, carbon cycle, and greenhouse gas emissions. The datasets are available at (Li et al., 2022).

Xiaoyong Li et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on essd-2022-135', Anonymous Referee #1, 08 Jun 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on essd-2022-135', Anonymous Referee #2, 15 Jun 2022
  • RC3: 'Comment on essd-2022-135', Anonymous Referee #3, 12 Jul 2022

Xiaoyong Li et al.

Data sets

Land use and land cover changes in the contiguous United States from 1630 to 2020 Xiaoyong Li, Hanqin Tian, Shufen Pan, Chaoqun Lu

Xiaoyong Li et al.


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Short summary
We reconstructed land use and land cover history for the conterminous United States during 1630–2020 by integrating multi-source data. The results show the widespread expansion of cropland and urban land and the shrinking of natural vegetation in the past four centuries. Forest planting and regeneration accelerated forest recovery since the 1920s. The datasets can be used to assess the LULC impacts on the ecosystem's carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles.