Multi-Scenario Land Use/Cover Change and Its Impact on Carbon Storage Based on the Coupled GMOP-PLUS-InVEST Model in the Hexi Corridor, China

Multi-Scenario Land Use/Cover Change and Its Impact on Carbon Storage Based on the Coupled GMOP-PLUS-InVEST Model in the Hexi Corridor, China

The results demonstrate that LUCC significantly influences carbon storage values. Utilizing the “GMOP-PLUS-InVEST” integrated approach effectively refines the structure of LUCC, achieving optimization targets for quantity and spatial arrangement. This enhancement boosts both ecosystem value and economic returns, promoting their balanced progress. In the 2035 land use simulation for the Hexi Corridor, the estimated carbon storage under both scenarios exceeded the 2020 levels. Additionally, the ECS, facilitated by the “GMOP-PLUS-InVEST” framework, successfully maximized both ecological and economic benefits, further exemplifying the capacity of the framework to optimize land use and enhance these benefits.

4.1. Analysis of the Response of Carbon Storage to LUCC in Hexi Corridor from 2000 to 2020

Carbon storage is vital for maintaining the regional carbon cycle and is a key index of ecosystem services [48]. From 1990 to 2020, the Hexi Corridor showed a distinctive carbon storage pattern: higher levels in the southern areas and lower in the northern areas. The eastern and southern parts of the Hexi Corridor, with their dense forests and grasslands, along with the central oasis plain rich in arable land, are areas of high carbon storage. In contrast, the northern regions, mostly consisting of unutilized land, exhibit low carbon storage. This distribution is consistent with Zhu et al.’s findings in arid northwest China [23]. The spatial distribution of carbon storage in the area is clearly influenced by land use types [49]. A temporal analysis of carbon storage in the Hexi Corridor from 2000 to 2020 shows a significant increase of 9.05 × 106 t over the two decades, attributable to both natural and anthropogenic factors. Ecological projects like the National Three-North Shelterbelt, efforts to prevent grassland desertification, and the reversion of farmland to grassland have increased forest and grassland areas, which have higher carbon densities. These observations align with Zhao et al.’s research in the Heihe River basin [50]. Additionally, the ongoing climate trends of warming and increasing humidity in northwest China [51], coupled with the implementation of ecological strategies like water distribution and intra-basin water transfer [52], have further enhanced the capacity of the Hexi Corridor for carbon sequestration.
Besides land use, various other factors influence carbon storage. Figure 7 and Table 6 illustrate the explanatory power and optimal intervals of the driving factors influencing carbon storage. Consequently, the NDVI, annual mean precipitation, and soil type emerge as the principal factors influencing the carbon storage of the Hexi Corridor, suggesting a predominant regulation by natural elements. This aligns with the observations made by Liu et al. [53] and Zhang et al. [54]. Moreover, the NDVI, precipitation, and slope exhibit a positive correlation with carbon storage, whereas the temperature, population density, and GDP show a negative correlation. The GDP level of a region significantly affects its construction area expansion: a higher GDP correlates with a greater scale and inclination towards urban construction area enlargement. Indeed, while urban expansion may offer immediate economic benefits, it poses a long-term threat by potentially diminishing the carbon storage capacity of regional ecosystems [55]. It is also identified as a primary contributor to the increase in carbon emissions [56]. The carbon emissions in the Hexi Corridor exhibited a significant increase, rising from 1.7 × 107 t in 2000 to 4.49 × 107 t in 2020 [57]. However, urban expansion is a complex process, frequently accompanied by infrastructure development, which significantly impacts the surrounding ecosystem [58].

4.3. Limitations, Prospects, and Policy Recommendations

This research constitutes a thorough assessment of the spatial and temporal characteristics of carbon storage in the Hexi Corridor between 2000 and 2035, examining the relationship between land use and carbon storage, and furnishing valuable insights for optimizing land use patterns and promoting sustainable ecological development in both the Hexi Corridor and the broader arid regions of northwest China. Nonetheless, it has certain limitations. Firstly, the InVEST model employed herein simplifies the carbon cycle, presupposing a linear relationship between regional carbon sequestration and time [62]. However, carbon density is subject to variations induced by human activities and environmental factors, displaying temporal and spatial fluctuations [63]. Moreover, this model considers land use change as the sole determinant of carbon storage variations. The effects of LUCC on atmospheric circulation and landmark reflectance were ignored [64]. Additionally, the soil type, photosynthetic rate, and seasonal changes to vegetation [63] all have certain effects on carbon storage, which will inevitably bring errors to the assessment results [65]. The carbon pools in this study were derived using a model parameter correction method, based on findings from previous research. While the results of this study are more precise than the national carbon density values directly cited by some researchers, they are less accurate than those obtained through field sampling and surveys. The carbon density of identical land use types can exhibit spatial heterogeneity, as influenced by factors such as forest management practices, forest types, and age [66]. Secondly, although the drivers selected for model prediction demonstrate a strong correlation across various land types, their quantification is challenging due to significant influences from socio-economic and policy factors. This challenge partially reduces the explanatory power of the regression function. Finally, the application of the “GMOP-PLUS-InVEST” model in simulating and estimating carbon storage for 2035 does not currently account for the impact of future climate change. This omission can introduce a degree of bias in the results [67].
It is important to recognize that achieving a net-zero carbon goal necessitates a combined effort to both reduce emissions and enhance carbon storage. However, a significant reduction in carbon emissions depends on the large-scale global implementation of energy transitions and carbon capture technologies, which are still in their nascent stages [68]. Additionally, there is uncertainty surrounding carbon offset projects [69]. Furthermore, climate change is a complex global challenge, and a singular focus on a net-zero carbon goal may not comprehensively address all pertinent issues [70].

The Hexi Corridor region, selected for this study, is, to some extent, representative of arid and semi-arid areas in China. Future studies can extend the “GMOP-PLUS-InVEST” framework to encompass all arid and semi-arid regions, including the Loess Plateau. For a more precise simulation of carbon storage, land use categories should be further refined and more accurate carbon density data should be employed in actual sampling. Additionally, the objective functions, constraints, and optimization scenarios within the GMOP framework can be adapted based on the specific circumstances of the study area to enhance the accuracy of simulations.

The Hexi Corridor is an important ecological security barrier in China, as well as an important dry farming production area and advanced manufacturing base in Gansu Province; in this light, this study proposes the following four policy recommendations:

(1) Grass land, being the most vital carbon pool in the Hexi Corridor from 2000 to 2035, necessitates the strict implementation of policies like the “Gansu Province Land Use Master Plan” and the “Gansu Province Land Space Ecological Restoration Plan”. These should include protecting and restoring key ecological barriers and corridors, improving nature reserve management systems (e.g., Qilian Mountain National Park), and enhancing the carbon storage of crucial ecosystems, particularly grass land. Grasses grow relatively quickly, so their carbon storage potentials are rapidly realized [71]. In the north of the corridor, ecological projects like the “Three North” should focus on planting grass seeds around critical ecological barriers for combined carbon storage and soil conservation improvements. In the south, efforts should be focused on restoring degraded forest land and grassland, tailoring to local conditions, and addressing challenges like soil erosion, local flooding, and reduced groundwater recharge.

(2) In the ECS, arable land emerges as a significant potential carbon storage type. Recognizing its dual role in food production and ecological protection, strategies should involve expanding arable land and implementing effective farmland management. This can include establishing multifunctional farmlands (e.g., farmland with interspersed trees) and employing ecological agricultural practices like straw returning to enhance carbon storage and soil water retention.

(3) The study from 2000 to 2035 indicates that although construction land contributes minimally to regional carbon storage, its uncontrolled expansion (often encroaching on arable land) can lead to significant carbon loss. Thus, promoting urban blue–green networks and optimizing urban space buildings are critical. These measures will not only increase the happiness of residents but also augment the carbon storage level in urban spaces and reduce carbon emissions.

(4) The water area of the Hexi Corridor is small, but because the Hexi Corridor is located in an arid and semi-arid region, regional water resource management is of great significance for agricultural cultivation and urban development, and the significance of the water area to the Hexi Corridor is not limited to its direct carbon storage capacity. Therefore, it is necessary to further strengthen the protection of lake and wetland water resources and carry out water quality testing to strengthen the role of water areas in maintaining regional ecological stability.

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