Over the past 30 years, vegetation growth across the northern latitudes has increasingly resembled the normally greener areas to the south as surface temperatures continue to warm.
NASA scientists, along with an international group of university scientists studied the link between changes in surface temperatures and vegetation growth over the northern latitudes from 45 degrees north to the Arctic Ocean.
The team used satellite data to measure vegetation changes at different levels between 1982 and 2011.
Percent plant growth change per decade. Image courtesy of NASA.
The research showed that as the higher northern latitudes warmed and the summer sea ice/snow diminished there was an increase in vegetation. The growing season was also getting longer.
Large patches of vegetation (tall shrubs and/or trees) now cover a third of the northern landscape. This landscape resembles what was found 250 to 430 miles (400 to 700 kilometers) to the south in 1982, according to the NASA News story.
"This sets in motion a cycle of positive reinforcement between warming and loss of sea ice and snow cover, which we call the amplified greenhouse effect," said Ranga Myneni of Boston University's Department of Earth and Environment.. "The greenhouse effect could be further amplified in the future as soils in the north thaw, releasing potentially significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane." (from NASA)
What could the future hold?
The research team analyzed 17 climate models, which showed that increasing temperatures in the Arctic and boreal regions would be equivalent to a 20 degree southward shift by the end of this century relative to a period of comparison from 1951-1980. However, plant growth could be slowed frequent forest fires, pest infestations and summertime droughts.
The study was just posted in the journal Nature Climate Change.
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