Feb 2, 2012 • Using long-term Landsat time series data researchers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center have found that warming temperatures alter the geographic distribution and health of arctic plants. Using Landsat 5 data of Northern Quebec from 1986–2010, researchers found an overall increase in greening (vegetation cover) with grasses and shrubs exhibiting the greatest expansion. But the response is not uniform across different plant types and ecosystems.

Lead researcher Doug Morton told Space News “The 2000s were the warmest decade on record. Continuous satellite observations are needed to monitor how vegetation responds to warmer temperatures. Satellite data for the entire boreal forest and tundra region will be critical to identify the early impacts of climate change on vegetation.”

Using a variety of satellite-based data including Landsat, scientists from Woods Hole Research Center are looking at vegetation response to climate change in arctic and tropical regions. They have found declining boreal forest productivity in North America as trees face drought, warmer, drier air, forest fires and insect infestations. In contrast, an increase of vegetation productivity has been observed in tundra ecosystems. In the Amazon basin severe droughts have killed off some of the forest’s largest trees, but researchers have found an overall increase of photosynthetic activity there. All of these changes have profound impacts on the global carbon cycle.

Further information:
Satellites Track Plants’ Response to Warming Temperatures, Space News [external link] + Study Shows More Shrubbery in a Warming World