Arctic summers warm, and Earth’s northern landscapes are shifting. New research discovered the region has become greener, as soil temperatures and warmer air lead to enhanced plant growth.
The research, conducted by Logan Berner from the Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, is the first to measure vegetation changes spanning the whole Arctic tundra, from Alaska and Canada to Siberia. Here is what you need to know.
How Significant is the Arctic Greening
For recent research, Landsat data was utilized, a joint project of NASA and the US Geological Survey (USGS). The study is also part of NASA’s ABoVE (the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment), which plans to understand better how ecosystems respond in these warming environments and the broader social implications.
Berner and his team used the Landsat data and additional measurements to estimate the peak greenness for a given year for every 50,000 randomly chosen sites across the tundra. They found that between 1985 and 2016, approximately 38 % of the tundra sites across Canada, Alaska, and western Eurasia showed greening. And only 3 % displayed the opposite browning effect, meaning fewer actively growing plants.
To include the eastern Eurasia parts, too, the team compared data from 2000, when Landsat satellites started regularly collecting pictures of that area. With such a global view, 22 % of sites greened, between 2000 and 2016, while only 4 % browned.
Berner explained: “We see this biome-scale greening at the same time and over the same period as we see really rapid increases in summer air temperatures.”
The team has also compared those greening patterns with other factors and discovered that it’s also related to higher soil moisture and higher soil temperatures. Researchers confirmed the findings with plant growth measurements from field sites around the Arctic region.
More research is needed to find more details and better understand all the processes. Landsat is, for sure, the key to many kinds of measurements.
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