Land use and land cover (LULC) data are a central component of most land-atmosphere interaction studies, but there are two common and highly problematic scale mismatches between LULC and climate data. First, in the spatial domain, researchers rarely consider the impact of scaling up fine-scale LULC data to match coarse-scale climate datasets. Second, in the temporal domain, climate data typically have sub-daily, daily, monthly, or annual resolution, but LULC datasets often have much coarser (e.g., decadal) resolution. We first explored the effect of three spatial scaling methods on correlations among LULC data and a land surface climatic variable, latent heat flux in China. Scaling by a fractional method preserved significant correlations among LULC data and latent heat flux at all three studied scales (0.5°, 1.0°, and 2.5°), whereas nearest-neighbor and majority-aggregation methods caused these correlations to diminish and even become statistically non-significant at coarser spatial scales (i.e., 2.5°). In the temporal domain, we identified fractional changes in croplands, forests, and grasslands in China using a recently developed and annually resolved time series of LULC maps from 1982 to 2012. Relative to common LULC change (LULCC) analyses conducted over two-time steps or several time periods, this annually resolved, 31-year time series of LULC maps enables robust interpretation of LULCC. Specifically, the annual resolution of these data enabled us to more precisely observe three key and statistically significant LULCC trends and transitions that could have consequential effects on land-atmosphere interaction: (1) decreasing grasslands to increasing croplands in the Northeast China plain and the Yellow river basin, (2) decreasing croplands to increasing forests in the Yangtze river basin, and (3) decreasing grasslands to increasing forests in Southwest China. Our study not only demonstrates the importance of using a fractional spatial rescaling method, but also illustrates the value of annually resolved LULC time series for detecting significant trends and transitions in LULCC, thus potentially facilitating a more robust use of remotely sensed data in land-atmosphere interaction studies.
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