Monitoring landcover change and desertification processes in northern China and Mongolia using historical written sources and vegetation indices
Abstract. Fighting land degradation of semi-arid and climate-sensitive grasslands are among the most urgent tasks of current eco-political agenda. Northern China and Mongolia are particularly prone to surface transformations caused by heavily increased livestock numbers during the 20th century. Extensive overgrazing and resource exploitation amplify regional climate change effects and trigger intensified surface transformation, which forces policy-driven interventions to prevent desertification. In the past, the region has been subject to major shifts in environmental and socio-cultural parameters, what makes it difficult to measure the extent of the regional anthropogenic impact and global climate change. This article analyses historical written sources, palaeoenvironmental data, and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) temporal series from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) to compare landcover change during the Little Ice Age (LIA) and the reference period 2000–2018. Results show that decreasing precipitation and temperature records led to increased land degradation during the late 17th century. However, modern landcover data shows enhanced expansion of bare lands contrasting an increase in precipitation (Ptotal) and maximum temperature (Tmax). Vegetation response during the early growing season (March–May) and the late grazing season (September) does not relate to Ptotal and Tmax and generally low NDVI values indicate no major grassland recovery over the past 20 years.
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