Researchers say, elevated temperatures and a longer growing season mean some of Earth’s chilliest regions are looking increasingly green.
As reported and base from the new study, at present the plant life at northern latitudes often looks like the vegetation researchers would have observed up to 430 miles (700 kilometers) farther south in 1982.
“It’s like Winnipeg, Manitoba, moving to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in only 30 years,” study researcher Compton Tucker of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement.
A team of university and NASA scientists including Tucker looked at 30 years’ worth of satellite and land surface data on vegetation growth from 45 degrees north latitude to the Arctic Ocean. The researchers suggest that, in this region, large patches of lush vegetation now stretch over an area about the size of the continental United States and resemble what was found 4 to 6 latitude degrees to the south in 1982.
“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,” climate scientist Ranga Myneni of Boston University said in a statement, adding that the changes are leading to great disruptions for the region’s ecosystems.
In the precedent several decades the Arctic has been warming more rapidly than the rest of any part of earth. An amplified greenhouse effect is largely to blame for the changes in plant life, says Myneni. In this succession, high concentrations of heat-trapping gasses drive up temperatures in the ocean and atmosphere. This warming trims down Arctic sea ice and snow cover, reason for the oceans and land surfaces in the region to be exposed this is also because the ice and snow are more reflective than darker surfaces. These surfaces soak up more heat from the sun’s rays, so further heating of the air and further reduction of sea ice and snow emerge as a consequence. Myneni warns that the cycle could get worse.
“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,” Myneni said.
Because of the rising temperatures Arctic and boreal regions could see the equivalent of a 20-degree latitude shift by the end of this century, the team found this out using climate models. The amplified greenhouse effect could have other consequences, like more forest fires, pest infestations and droughts, which cut vegetation growth, researchers say.
And the availability of water and sunlight determines where plants will thrive. “Satellite data identify areas in the boreal zone that are warmer and dryer and other areas that are warmer and wetter,” Ramakrishna Nemani of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., explained in a statement. “Only the warmer and wetter areas support more growth.”
The researchers furthermore saw additional plant growth in the boreal zone from 1982 to 1992 than from 1992 to 2011. And they thought this could be because of the lack of water in the region during the last two decades of the study.