Vegetation biomass change in China in the 20th century: An assessment based on a combination of multi-model simulations and field observations

Xiang Song, Fang Li, Sandy P. Harrison, Tianxiang Luo, Almut Arneth, Matthew Forrest, Stijn Hantson, Gitta Lasslop, Stephane Mangeon, Jian Ni, Chao Yue, Thomas Hickler, Yiqi Luo, Stephen Sitch, Xin Xu, Zaichun Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch Articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Vegetation biomass is a key and active component of the carbon cycle. Though China's vegetation biomass in recent decades has been widely investigated, only two studies have quantitatively assessed its century-scale changes so far and reported totally opposite trends. This study provided the first multi-model estimates of China's vegetation biomass change for the 20th century and its responses to historical changes in environmental and anthropogenic factors, based on simulations evaluated with the field observations from 3757 inventory plots in China and bias-corrected using machine learning (Gaussian process regression). A significant decline in vegetation biomass over the 20th century was shown by bias-corrected simulations from the six Dynamic Global Vegetation models (DGVMs) with trends ranging from -32.48 to -11.10 Tg C yr-1 and a mean trend of -17.74 Tg C yr-1. Land use and land cover change (LULCC) was primarily responsible for the simulated downward trend (-50.71 to -24.28 Tg C yr-1), while increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration lead to increased vegetation biomass (+9.27 to + 13.37 Tg C yr-1). Climate change had limited impacts on the long-term trend (-3.75 to + 5.06 Tg C yr-1). This study highlights the importance of LULCC for historical reconstruction and future projection of vegetation biomass over China. It also suggests that the incorrect change in China's forest area for 1980-2000 in the LULCC dataset used as model input data of many existing and ongoing model intercomparison projects (MIPs) has likely led to inaccurate estimations of historical vegetation biomass changes in China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number094026
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Vegetation biomass change in China in the 20th century: An assessment based on a combination of multi-model simulations and field observations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this