Exacerbated degradation and desertification of grassland in Central Asia
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Grassland desertification is a complex process, including both state conversion (e.g., grasslands to deserts) and gradual within-state change (e.g., greenness dynamics). Existing studies generally did not separate the two components and analyzed them based on time series vegetation indices, which however cannot provide a clear and comprehensive picture for desertification. Here we proposed a desertification zone classification-based grassland degradation strategy to detect the grassland desertification process in Central Asia. First, annual spatially explicit maps of grasslands and deserts were generated to track the conversion between grasslands and deserts. The results showed that 13 % of grasslands were converted to deserts from 2000 to 2014, with an increasing desertification trend northward in the latitude range of 43-48°N. Second, a fragile and unstable Transitional zone was identified in southern Kazakhstan based on desert frequency maps. Third, gradual vegetation dynamics during the thermal growing season (EVITGS) were investigated using linear regression and Mann-Kendall approaches. The results indicated that grasslands generally experienced widespread degradation in Central Asia, with an additional hotspot identified in the northern Kazakhstan. Finally, attribution analyses of desertification were conducted by correlating vegetation dynamics with three different drought indices (Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), and Drought Severity Index (DSI)), precipitation, and temperature, and showed that grassland desertification was exacerbated by droughts, and persistent drought was the main factor for grassland desertification in Central Asia. This study provided essential information for taking practical actions to prevent the further desertification and targeting right spots for better intervention to combat the land degradation in the region.