PAGES LandCover 6K Working Group

LandCover 6K

The PAGES LandCover 6K working group is an international and interdisciplinary research group dedicated to reconstructing human land use and land cover over the past 12,000 years. The project is attempting to understand how humans have transformed the earth to such an extent that they have contributed to current global climates. The goal of this initiative is to critically evaluate and improve models of anthropogenic land cover change used in local and global climate models.

This work is urgently needed. Current climate models make little use of the vast repository of evidence about human history, an awareness that humans are one major agent of global change. Vegetation is known to change in response to many factors, including human land use, but the complex and variable relationships between land use and land cover are still insufficiently understood. Differing assumptions about these relationships have led to significant differences between models of anthropogenic land cover change, a critical shortcoming with immediate scientific and policy implications for work on global climate.

The development of more accurate and complete historical land use and land cover maps will also support and fuel research into a wide variety of fields and thus is of interest well beyond the community of climate scholars. For example, the work will allow archaeologists to map for the first time the occurrence of different hunting and gathering groups at a global scale through the Holocene and understand the changing nature of agricultural regimes at a continental to global scale. Comparison with land cover will also allow archaeologists to understand how far human land use change has contributed to the loss of vegetation systems over time. The work is therefore important not just for understanding the Holocene climate system and its links to land use and land cover change, but also the evolution of human-environment relationships in different corners of the globe.

In order to provide global land cover maps the team have created a classification system that allows them to quantify the global extent of that transformation, using a common terminology that is globally relevant (Morrison et al 2021). An example of the application this classification system is provided through a case study of the Middle East and Arabia 6000 years ago. The team are also working on land use maps for Europe – an initiative that Dr Whitehouse is leading on – South Asia, China, South America and Africa.

Dr Nicki Whitehouse, University of Glasgow, is one of the global land use co-leaders of this PAGES project, alongside Prof Kathleen Morrisson, (University of Pennsylvania) and Prof Marco Madella (University of Pompeu Fabra, Spain); Prof Marie-Jose Gaillard (Linneus University, Sweden) is the overall co-ordinator for the project.

Founded in 1991, PAGES is a core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP). The inclusion of the historical human disciplines makes the LandCover 6K Working Group effort unique in the world of large-scale international scientific collaborations.

Project publications – just out:

Kathleen D. Morrison, Emily Hammer, Oliver Boles, Marco Madella, Nicola Whitehouse, Marie-Jose Gaillard-Lemdahl, Jennifer Bates, Marc Vander Linden, Stefania Merlo, Alice Yao, Laura Popova, Austin Chad Hill, et al. 2021. Mapping past human land use using archaeological data: a new classification for global land use synthesis and data harmonization Plos One

Other publications:

Gaillard, M.-J.; Morrisson, K. and Whitehouse, N.J. 2015. Past anthropogenic land use and land cover change at the global scale for climate modeling studies: PAGES LandCover6K Working Group. Quaternary Perspectives 22(2), 25-27

Goldewijk, K.; Gaillard, M.-J.; Morrison, K.; Madella, M. and Whitehouse, N.J. 2016. Uncovering the Past; multidisciplinary research on historic land cover and land use. PAGES Magazine Vol 24 (2), 81.

Morrison, K.D.; E. Hammer, L. Popova, M. Madella, N. Whitehouse, M-J Gaillard and LandCover6k Land-Use Group Members. 2018. Global-scale comparisons of human land use: developing shared terminology for land-use practices of significance for global change. Past Global Changes 26(1), 8-9.

Harrison, S. P., ….. Whitehouse, N.J. et al. 2020. Development and testing scenarios for implementing land use and land cover changes during the Holocene in Earth system model experiments. Geoscientific Model Development, 13(2), pp. 805-824. (doi: 10.5194/gmd-13-805-2020)

Whitehouse, N.J.; Bunting, M.J.; McClatchie, M.; Barratt, P.; McLaughlin, R.; Schulting, R. and A. Bogaard. 2018. Prehistoric land-cover and land-use history in Ireland at 6000 BP. Past Global Changes 26(1), 24-25

Whitehouse, N., Madella, M. and Antolín, F. 2018. European land-use at 6000 BP: from on-site data to the large-scale view. Pages Magazine 26(2).

Further links: