News Release

Satellite observations reveal latitudinal variability and asymmetry in local temperature responses to actual land cover changes

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Science China Press

The temperature responses to all actual land cover changes (LCC).


(a) Latitudinal variability in the temperature responses to LCCs (ΔTLCC) and in the ratios of ΔTLCC to the overall temperature variation (ΔT) at the same location over the same period; (b) seasonal ΔTLCC patterns in four latitude zones.

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Credit: ©Science China Press

Land cover changes (LCCs) affect surface temperatures at local scale through biophysical processes. However, limited by the coarse spatial resolution of available data, past observation-based studies mainly focused on the potential effects of virtual afforestation/deforestation using the space-for-time assumption. Prof. Li and his team firstly generated a high-resolution temperature dataset, and then explored the actual effects of all types of realistic LCCs by adopting the space-and-time scheme and utilizing extensive satellite observations.

They identified a total of 529,128 1-km pixels experienced LCC from 2006 to 2015. The widely studied afforestations/deforestations accounted for 46.28%, whereas previously underexplored transitions within non-forest vegetation types and almost unnoticed changes involving non-vegetation types occurred with proportions of 18.62% and 35.10%, respectively, illustrating the necessity to explore the comprehensive influences of all LCC types instead of considering only the influences of forest changes, as has been done in previous research.

The average temperature in the areas with LCCs increased by 0.08 K globally, but varied significantly across latitudes, ranging from -0.05 K to 0.18 K. These effects accounted for up to 44.6% of overall concurrent warming, emphasizing the importance of LCC biophysical influences. By comparing the importance of different LCC processes within a unified framework, the researchers found that cropland expansions dominated cooling effects in the northern mid-latitudes, whereas forest-related LCCs caused warming effects elsewhere.

Unlike the symmetric assumption of potential effects, the researchers revealed obvious asymmetries in the actual effects: LCCs with warming effects occurred more frequently, with stronger intensities, than LCCs with cooling effects. Even for the mutual changes between two covers in the same region, warming LCCs generally had larger magnitudes than their cooling counterparts. Attribution analysis indicated that the asymmetric temperature effects was caused by a combination of asymmetric changes in transition fractions and driving variables. These findings demonstrated that the increase in temperature resulting from a specific LCC cannot be counteracted by simply performing its reverse LCC of the same area during the same period, providing a new perspective on the land management and climate adaptation policies.


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