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Finding Farmland: Global Maps Help Fight Hunger

Jan 19, 2015 03:22 PM EST
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With the world growing increasingly warmer, experts have estimated that we are actually due to gain a great deal of farmland, even if the crop yield that that land could see may actually decrease. However, finding this land so that it can quickly be put to use remains a challenge. Now, two new global maps may provide some help in the search for fresh farmland.
(Photo : IIASA Geo-Wiki Project; Google)

With the world growing increasingly warmer, experts have estimated that we are actually due to gain a great deal of farmland, even if the crop yield that that land could see may actually decrease. However, finding this land so that it can quickly be put to use remains a challenge. Now, two new global maps may provide some help in the search for fresh farmland.

The maps were released today in the journal Global Change Biology, and offer two types of data that experts argue is essential for the search.

The first map was created using a great deal of international and vetted crowd-sourced data, showing global cropland percentages at one kilometer resolution for the year 2005. This data, cross-checked for accuracy and combined with pre-existing large-scale maps, created something researchers are claiming is more intergraded than anything else seen before.

"Current sources of information on cropland extent are not accurate enough for most applications," project leader Steffen Fritz, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), explained in a statement. "The global cropland map is a low cost solution to fill this need."

The trouble with being certain about farmland distribution is that there are not many detailed records in developing countries, especially when smaller lands often look no different that the surrounding vegetation from planes or satellites.

However, "where [many] maps agree there is cropland, there is a higher likelihood that cropland is actually present," study co-author Linda See from the IIASA added.

A second map, based entirely off crowd-sourced data through the Geo-Wiki project, helps verify the rate of change that cropland goes through. This map was produced after a global network of citizen scientists looked at thousands of high-resolution images of land cover to determine whether cropland was present or not in regions that likely had land back in 2005.

This can help them determine where and when cropland remained, and if it is still in use.

"Crowdsourcing has incredible potential for gathering this type of information," Fritz added, "and it could be particularly valuable in Africa, where future food security is a major uncertainty."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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