Arctic gets greener: A study has found that the Arctic has become greener over the past 30 years.
Researchers said this week that higher temperatures and longer growing seasons since 1982 have enabled more vegetation to grow where Arctic tundra used to be.
Over the past 30 years, shrubs and tall trees that grow in temperate climates have been spotted growing in the Arctic, spreading 250 and 430 miles further north than normal, according to a study by a team of NASA scientists and international researchers. The study was published in “Nature Climate Change.”
“Higher northern latitudes are getting warmer, Arctic sea ice and the duration of snow cover are diminishing, the growing season is getting longer and plants are growing more,” Ranga Myneni, with Boston University’s Department of Earth and Environment, said in a NASA press release. “In the north’s Arctic and boreal areas, the characteristics of the seasons are changing, leading to great disruptions for plants and related ecosystems.”
Researchers observed large swathes of “vigorously productive vegetation” that encompass around a third of the world’s northern landscape—an area roughly the same size as the lower 48 states of the United States, according to the release.
“It’s like Winnipeg, Manitoba, moving to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in only 30 years,” stated study co-author Compton Tucker, who works with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
On the ground, greening in boreal forest areas is a more significant phenomenon in Eurasia than in North America.
“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,” Myneni noted. “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.”
The data used in the study comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Very High Resolution Radiometers, which are carried by polar-orbiting satellites.
“We found more plant growth in the boreal zone from 1982 to 1992 than from 1992 to 2011, because water limitations were encountered in the later two decades of our study,” co-author Sangram Ganguly, who works with the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute and NASA Ames, said in the release.
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