Land use and land cover change is an important driver of global change (Turner et al., 1993). It is recognized that land use change has important consequences for global and regional climates, the global biogeochemical cycles such as carbon, nitrogen, and water, biodiversity, etc. Nevertheless, there have been relatively few comprehensive studies of global, long-term historical changes in land cover due to land use. In this paper, we review the development of global scale data sets of land use and land cover change. Furthermore, we assess the differences between two recently developed global data sets of historical land cover change due to land use. Based on historical statistical inventories (e.g. census data, tax records, land surveys, historical geography estimates, etc) and applying different spatial analysis techniques, changes in agricultural land cover (croplands, pastures) were reconstructed for the last 300 years. The two data sets indicate that cropland areas expanded from 3–4 million km2 in 1700 to 15–18 million km2 in 1990 (mostly at the expense of forests), while grazing land area expanded from 5 million km2 in 1700 to 31 million km2 in 1990 (mostly at the expense of natural grasslands). The data sets disagree most over Latin America and Oceania, and agree best over North America. Major differences in the two data sets can be explained by the use of a fractional versus Boolean approach, different modelling assumptions, and inventory data sets.
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Klein Goldewijk, K., Ramankutty, N. Land cover change over the last three centuries due to human activities: The availability of new global data sets. GeoJournal 61, 335–344 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-004-5050-z