Modern physical geography in China grew from Chinese traditional geography and has been profoundly influenced by the geographical disciplines of Euro-America and Russia. Since the 1950s, integrated studies of physical geography in China have made remarkable progress in the fields of comprehensive physical geographical regionalization, land studies, landscape ecology, and land surface geographical processes. During the past few decades, under the background of global change and rapid socio-economic transformation, a series of environmental and resources problems have boomed in China. To solve these problems and promote the development of integrated studies of physical geography, the following issues were proposed as research priorities: (1) coupling of land surface patterns and processes; (2) integrated research on regional responses and adaptation to global change; (3) analysis of human dimensions of the earth system; (4) ecosystem service research from a geographical perspective; (5) integration of multi-source data and model development; (6) integrated studies on unique geographical units; and (7) important global issues and relevant international programs.
Land surface is of spatial-temporal heterogeneity. Terrestrial system (TS) comprehensively studies on land surface and physical regionalization objectively describes geographical zonation of the system. China has a vast area with apparent spatial variations in resources and environmental conditions, which highly influence on socio-economic development. In this paper, progress of the TS studies in China is overviewed and research priorities in the near future are prospected. Since the 1950s, China has paid great attention to the TS study as its socio-economic development, and conducted research on physical geographical regionalization, eco-geographical regionalization and comprehensive regionalization. Along with the deepening of global change research, dynamics of TS have been highly concerned. During the studies, methodology has been developed from qualitative research of integration of experts’ brainpower gradually to quantitative research based on field observation and experiments of the natural processes, including physical, chemical and biological processes, as well as application of information technology and mathematical simulation. In the near future, TS would combine with the ideology, objectives and key researches of Future Earth program, to focus on the mechanism and regional effects of interaction among land surface elements, the response of TS to global change, the quantitative recognition on regional unit boundary, and the application to TS in sustainable socio-economic development.
Eddy Covariance technique (EC) achieves the direct measurement on ecosystem carbon, nitrogen and water fluxes, and it provides scientific data for accurately assessing ecosystem functions in mitigating global climate change. This paper briefly reviewed the construction and development of Chinese terrestrial ecosystem flux observation and research network (ChinaFLUX), and systematically introduced the design principle and technology of the terrestrial ecosystem carbon, nitrogen and water fluxes coordinated observation system of ChinaFLUX. In addition, this paper summarized the main progress of ChinaFLUX in the ecosystem carbon, nitrogen and water exchange and environmental controlling mechanisms, the spatial pattern of carbon, nitrogen and water fluxes and biogeographical mechanisms, and the regional terrestrial ecosystem carbon budget assessment. Finally, the prospects and emphases of the terrestrial ecosystem carbon, nitrogen and water fluxes coordinated observation of ChinaFLUX are put forward to provide theoretical references for the development of flux observation and research in China.
China is distinguished by a prominent monsoonal climate in the east of the country, a continental arid climate in the northwest and a highland cold climate on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Because of the long history of Chinese civilization, there are abundant and well-dated documentary records for climate variation over the whole of the country as well as many natural archives (e.g., tree-rings, ice cores, stalagmites, varved lake sediments and corals) that enable high-resolution paleoclimatic reconstruction. In this paper, we review recent advances in the reconstruction of climate and extreme events over the last 2000 years in China. In the last 10 years, many new reconstructions, based on multi-proxies with wide spatial coverage, have been published in China. These reconstructions enable us to understand the characteristics of climate change across the country as well as the uncertainties of regional reconstructions. Synthesized reconstructed temperature results show that warm intervals over the last 2000 years occurred in AD 1-200, AD 551-760, AD 951-1320, and after AD 1921, and also show that cold intervals were in AD 201-350, AD 441-530, AD 781-950, and AD 1321-1920. Extreme cold winters, seen between 1500 and 1900, were more frequent than those after 1950. The intensity of regional heat waves, in the context of recent global warming, may not in fact exceed natural climate variability seen over the last 2000 years. In the eastern monsoonal region of China, decadal, multi-decadal and centennial oscillations are seen in rainfall variability. While the ensemble mean for drought/flood spatial patterns across all cold periods shows a meridional distribution, there is a tri-pole pattern with respect to droughts south of 25°N, floods between 25° and 30°N, and droughts north of 30°N for all warm periods. Data show that extreme drought events were most frequent in the periods AD 301-400, AD 751-800, AD 1051-1150, AD 1501-1550, and AD 1601-1650, while extreme flood events were frequent in the periods AD 101-150, AD 251-300, AD 951-1000, AD 1701-1750, AD 1801-1850, and AD 1901-1950. Between AD 1551-1600, extreme droughts and flood events occurred frequently. In arid northwest China, climate was characterized by dry conditions in AD 1000-1350, wet conditions in AD 1500-1850, and has tended to be wet over recent decades. On the northeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, centennial-scale oscillations in precipitation have occurred over the last 1000 years, interrupted by several multi- decadal-scale severe drought events. Of these, the most severe were in the 1480s and 1710s. In southwest China, extreme droughts as severe as those seen in Sichuan and Chongqing in 2006 are known to have occurred during historical times.
Accompanying the rapid growth of China’s population and economy, energy consumption and carbon emission increased significantly from 1978 to 2012. China is now the largest energy consumer and CO2 emitter of the world, leading to much interest in researches on the nexus between energy consumption, carbon emissions and low-carbon economy. This article presents the domestic Chinese studies on this hotpot issue, and we obtain the following findings. First, most research fields involve geography, ecology and resource economics, and research contents contained some analysis of current situation, factors decomposition, predictive analysis and the introduction of methods and models. Second, there exists an inverted “U-shaped” curve connection between carbon emission, energy consumption and economic development. Energy consumption in China will be in a low-speed growth after 2035 and it is expected to peak between 6.19-12.13 billion TCE in 2050. China’s carbon emissions are expected to peak in 2035, or during 2020 to 2045, and the optimal range of carbon emissions is between 2.4-3.3 PgC/year (1 PgC=1 billion tons C) in 2050. Third, future research should be focused on global carbon trading, regional carbon flows, reforming the current energy structure, reducing energy consumption and innovating the low-carbon economic theory, as well as establishing a comprehensive theoretical system of energy consumption, carbon emissions and low-carbon economy.
The varied altitudinal gradient of climate and vegetation is further complicated by mass elevation effect (MEE), especially in high and extensive mountain regions. However, this effect and its implications for mountain altitudinal belts have not been well studied until recently. This paper provides an overview of the research carried out in the past 5 years. MEE is virtually the heating effect of mountain massifs and can be defined as the temperature difference on a given elevation between inside and outside of a mountain mass. It can be digitally modelled with three factors of intra-mountain base elevation (MBE), latitude and hygrometric continentality; MBE usually acts as the primary factor for the magnitude of MEE and, to a great extent, could represent MEE. MEE leads to higher treelines in the interior than in the outside of mountain masses. It makes montane forests to grow at 4800-4900 m and snowlines to develop at about 6000 m in the southern Tibetan Plateau and the central Andes, and large areas of forests to live above 3500 m in a lot of high mountains of the world. The altitudinal distribution of global treelines can be modelled with high precision when taking into account MEE and the result shows that MEE contributes the most to treeline distribution pattern. Without MEE, forests could only develop upmost to about 3500 m above sea level and the world ecological pattern would be much simpler. The quantification of MEE should be further improved with higher resolution data and its global implications are to be further revealed.
Coping with extreme climate events and its related climatic disasters caused by climate change has become a global issue and drew wide attention from scientists, policy-makers and public. This paper calculated the expected annual multiple climatic hazards intensity index based on the results of nine climatic hazards including tropical cyclone, flood, landslide, storm surge, sand-dust storm, drought, heat wave, cold wave and wildfire. Then a vulnerability model involving the coping capacity indicator with mortality rate, affected population rate and GDP loss rate, was developed to estimate the expected annual affected population, mortality and GDP loss risks. The results showed that: countries with the highest risks are also the countries with large population or GDP. To substantially reduce the global total climatic hazards risks, these countries should reduce the exposure and improving the governance of integrated climatic risk; Without considering the total exposure, countries with the high mortality rate, affected population rate or GDP loss rate, which also have higher or lower coping capacity, such as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Vietnam, are the hotspots of the planning and strategy making for the climatic disaster risk reduction and should focus on promoting the coping capacity.
Land use and land cover change (LULCC) strongly influence regional and global climate by combining both biochemical and biophysical processes. However, the biophysical process was often ignored, which may offset the biogeochemical effects, so measures to address climate change could not reach the target. Thus, the biophysical influence of LULCC is critical for understanding observed climate changes in the past and potential scenarios in the future. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the mechanisms and effects of large-scale LULCC on climate change through changing the underlying surface, and thus the energy balance. The key scientific issues on understanding the impacts of human activities on global climate that must be addressed including: (1) what are the basic scientific facts of spatial and temporal variations of LULCC in China and comparative countries? (2) How to understand the coupling driving mechanisms of human activities and climate change on the LULCC and then to forecasting the future scenarios? (3) What are the scientific mechanisms of LULCC impacts on biophysical processes of land surface, and then the climate? (4) How to estimate the contributions of LULCC to climate change by affecting biophysical processes of land surface? By international comparison, the impacts of LULCC on climate change at the local, regional and global scales were revealed and evaluated. It can provide theoretical basis for the global change, and have great significance to mitigate and adapt to global climate changes.
Hydrological monitoring and seasonal forecasting is an active research field because of its potential applications in hydrological risk assessment, preparedness and mitigation. In recent decades, developments in ground and satellite measurements have made the hydrometeorological information readily available, and advances in information technology have facilitated the data analysis in a real-time manner. New progress in climate research and modeling has enabled the prediction of seasonal climate with reasonable accuracy and increased resolution. These emerging techniques and advances have enabled more timely acquisition of accurate hydrological fluxes and status, and earlier warning of extreme hydrological events such as droughts and floods. This paper gives current state-of-the-art understanding of the uncertainties in hydrological monitoring and forecasting, reviews the efforts and progress in operational hydrological monitoring system assisted by observations from various sources and experimental seasonal hydrological forecasting, and briefly introduces the current monitoring and forecasting practices in China. The grand challenges and perspectives for the near future are also discussed, including acquiring and extracting reliable information for monitoring and forecasting, predicting realistic hydrological fluxes and states in the river basin being significantly altered by human activity, and filling the gap between numerical models and the end user. We highlight the importance of understanding the needs of the operational water management and the priority to transfer research knowledge to decision-makers.
In the paper, the development of precipitation isotope observation networks in China was reviewed, and recent achievements in isoscape and environmental effect of precipitation stable isotopes were summarized; the hydrological process studies based on precipitation isotopes in China during recent decade were also reviewed. In past decades, the spatial and seasonal patterns of precipitation isotopes have been investigated nationwide, especially after the participation in GNIP (Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation) and the establishment of CHNIP (Chinese Network of Isotopes in Precipitation), although long-term measurements are still limited; besides the nationwide network, a series of regional networks has been widely established across China. From the traditional manual drawing to the computer-aided mapping, and then to the simulation using isotope-equipped models, the productions of precipitation isoscape have been improved. The main factors controlling precipitation isotopes were summarized, and the potential significances of isotopes in climate proxies were mentioned. The recent studies about influence of raindrop sub-cloud secondary evaporation on isotopes were reviewed; based on the precipitation isotope and other parameters, the contribution of recycled moisture (evaporation and transpiration) in local precipitation can be estimated using three- or two-component mixing models. Finally, some prospects of precipitation isotope studies in China were presented.
Climate change and water resource issues are global problems of common concern to the international community, and they are major bottlenecks affecting the eco-environment and sustainable socio-economic development in the arid region of Northwest China. On the basis of results from previous studies, this paper points out that the unique landscape of Northwest China increases the complexity and uncertainty of the climate system. This paper analyzes the key constraints on socio-economic development and ecological security in the region, discusses the impact of climate change on water resources in Northwest China, identifies common themes and the main problems present in research on climate change and water resources in the arid northwest region, and finally, based on the importance and urgency of conducting research on the region’s water resources, proposes scientific problems that need to be addressed: first, the impact of climate change on the formation, conversion and future trends of water resources in the region; second, bidirectional coupling of high-resolution regional climate models and water cycle models of arid region land surface patterns; third, the impact of climate change and human activities on water resources of the arid northwest region. Through consideration and discussion of the above, this paper seeks to further clarify specific areas of research on pressing issues related to climate change and water resources in Northwest China, so as to establish a solid scientific basis for significantly enhancing our ability to respond to climate change and water shortages.
Ecosystem services are substantial elements for human society. The central challenge to meet the human needs from ecosystems while sustain the Earth’s life support systems makes it urgent to enhance efficient natural resource management for sustainable ecological and socioeconomic development. Trade-off analysis of ecosystem services can help to identify optimal decision points to balance the costs and benefits of the diverse human uses of ecosystems. In this sense, the aim of this paper is to provide key insights into ecosystem services trade-off analysis at different scales from a land use perspective, by comprehensively reviewing the trade-offs analysis tools and approaches that addressed in ecology, economics and other fields. The review will significantly contribute to future research on trade-off analysis to avoid inferior management options and offer a win-win solution based on comprehensive and efficient planning for interacting multiple ecosystem services.
Although the urgency of their conservation has been recognized, Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since 2002 and China Nationally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (China- NIAHS) certified by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of China since 2012 are faced with questions as to why to conserve them, what is to be conserved, who should conserve them, and how? This paper attempts to clarify and respond to such questions focusing on the conservation of agricultural heritage systems in China based on a review of both theoretical and practical progress. Agricultural heritage systems exhibit a multitude of values for sustainable and equitable development and therefore should be conserved for both present and future generations. Unlike most conventional heritages, the conservation of agricultural heritage systems is a complex, systematic “engineering” in which both physical and biological components and associated socio-cultural processes should be conserved in a dynamic way. Farmers and heritage sites must benefit from the continuance of traditional agricultural production under the premise of ecological functions being sustained and traditional culture being inherited. For a more effective conservation, a multi- stakeholder process should be established involving governments at different levels, multi-disciplinary scientists, communities and farmers, and business enterprises as well as social organizations. As has been demonstrated, the conservation of agricultural heritage systems aims to promote the regional sustainable development, to improve the livelihood, food security and well-being of farm people, and to provide references for the development of modern agriculture in China.