The war with nature is over and we’ve won!

What happens when humans finally win the war with nature and end up in charge of ecology? A question for the future? Think again. In “Peak Wood: Nature Does Impose Limits”, John Perlin describes what happens when human societies, starting in prehistory, have completely transformed their ecosystems and ultimately themselves, by clearing away forests to improve hunting and gathering, for […]

China’s villages are changing the world

If you still think of rural China as remote, traditional, and unchanged for millennia, think again. China’s ancient village landscapes are among the most dynamic and densely populated on Earth, with a global extent more than twice that all of Earth’s cities combined (2.5 million km2 vs. ~1 million km2). It should therefore come as no surprise that long-term changes […]

Carbonware: Googling forests, Windows on your carbon

With carbon, climate and COP 15 in the news, Google and Microsoft are now battling over carbon mindshare, introducing the latest web-based “Carbonware” designed to help combat carbon emissions and global warming. These add to a growing list that includes the many “carbon footprint calculators” designed to enlighten us on our carbon emissions and the activities we undertake that cause […]

Tools for the Carbon Economy

By Jonathan Dandois Will the census of the future ask homeowners how many trees they have on their property? With humanity now faced with a changing climate under even the most stringent efforts to reduce carbon emissions, carbon accounting has become a hot topic for scientists, politicians and economists. While carbon accounting at the scale of individual households and their […]

Burning the biosphere before you were born

Millennia before humans discovered coal, indeed, millennia before there was civilization, Homo sapiens had discovered fire and was making extensive use of it. In a study just published by Bill Ruddiman and myself (Ruddiman and Ellis, 2009), we show that early farmers using fire likely cleared vast areas of forest thousands of years ago, even when human populations were small, […]

The Nature within now matters most

Should we conserve nature even if it is not wild? Humans have transformed 40% of earth’s ice-free land into crop fields, pastures and settlements, and have embedded another 37% within used and populated landscapes (anthromes). While 23% is still free of people and their use of land, these remaining wildlands are mostly found in the driest and coldest parts of […]

Guns, forests and carbon

Not only do humans burn away forests to enhance their food supply, they also do it when they battle each other! Or so says a study published by Zhen Li and his colleagues this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Li et al. 2009). By linking a careful investigation of paleoclimate indicators from sediments with burning […]

A New Wetlands Map for China

by Diann Prosser The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has recently released the first comprehensive digital map of wetlands across China, based on remote sensing imagery. The effort was led by PengGong, of CAS Institute of Remote Sensing Applications in Beijing and University of California, Berkeley. Wetland map classification was based on Landsat (ETM+) imagery (1999 to 2002) obtained from […]

Our landscapes are reflected in the clouds

When we change our landscapes, we change the clouds above and thereby climate – this from new evidence just published by Jingfeng Wang (Wang et al., 2009) and a team of researchers in Rafael Bras’s climate lab at MIT. By observing cloud patterns and other climate parameters in deforested areas of Brazil, their work demonstrates that local and regional patterns […]

The human jungle

Are pristine rainforests the only ones that matter? We know that forests do change as they age, developing some unique characteristics when mature, and that some species cannot live outside of large swaths of ancient tropical forests. But what about the rest of tropical forests- the younger ones, the forests that people live in or have cut in recent decades […]

Forest change in China

An interesting new historical study of forest cover change in China from 1700 to present reveals that up to the 1960s, deforestation prevailed, while since the 1960s, forests have been recovering. Read the paper by Fanneng He et al., in the (Chinese) Journal of Geographical Sciences, here (may require permission): Reference: He, F., Q. Ge, J. Dai, and Y. […]