Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2019, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (5): 658-674.doi: 10.1007/s11442-019-1620-3

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Characterizing the changing environment of cropland in the Songnen Plain, Northeast China, from 1990 to 2015

Yuan ZHANG1,2(), Shuying ZANG3,*(), Li SUN3, Binghe YAN3, Tianpeng YANG1, Wenjia YAN1, E Michael MEADOWS1,4, Cuizhen WANG5, Jiaguo QI6   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Geographic Information Science (Ministry of Education), School of Geographic Sciences, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200241, China
    2. Institute of Eco-Chongming, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    3. Key Laboratory of Remote Sensing Monitoring of Geographic Environment, College of Heilongjiang Province, Harbin Normal University, Harbin 150025, China
    4. Department of Environmental & Geographical Science, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
    5. Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA
    6. Center for Global Change and Earth Observations and Department of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
  • Received:2018-01-10 Accepted:2018-04-10 Online:2019-05-25 Published:2019-04-19
  • Contact: Shuying ZANG;
  • About author:

    Author: Zhang Yuan (1975-), PhD and Associate Professor, specialized in remote sensing of agroecology. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41571410, No.41571199, No.41401589


Quantitative characterization of environmental characteristics of cropland (ECC) plays an important role in maintaining sustainable development of agricultural systems and ensuring regional food security. In this study, the changes in ECC over the Songnen Plain, a major grain crops production region in Northeast China, were investigated for the period 1990-2015. The results revealed significant changes in climate conditions, soil physical properties and cropland use patterns with socioeconomic activities. Trends in climate parameters showed increasing temperature (+0.49°C/decade, p < 0.05) and decreasing wind speed (-0.3 m/s/decade, p < 0.01) for the growing season, while sunshine hours and precipitation exhibited non-significant trends. Four topsoil parameters including soil organic carbon (SOC), clay, bulk density and pH, indicated deteriorating soil conditions across most of the croplands, although some do exhibited slight improvement. The changing amplitude for each of the four above parameters ranged within -0.052 to 0.029 kg C/kg, -0.38 to 0.30, -0.60 to 0.39 g/cm3, -3.29 to 2.34, respectively. Crop production significantly increased (44.0 million tons) with increasing sown area of croplands (~2.5 million ha) and fertilizer application (~2.5 million tons). The study reveals the dynamics of ECC in the Songnen Plain with intensive cultivation from 1990 to 2015. Population growth, economic development, and policy reform are shown to strongly influence the spatiotemporal changes in cropland characteristics. The study potentially provides valuable scientific information to support sustainable agroecosystem management in the context of global climate change and national socioeconomic development.

Key words: Songnen Plain, environmental characteristics of cropland, climate change, soil properties, grain yield