Scientists from the United States have explored the tundra and found that over 38% of its territory has become greener since 1985. This threatens to thaw permafrost and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Researchers at the Goddard Space Flight Center have found that the Arctic summer is getting warmer, and the climate of the northern landscapes of the Earth is changing. Using NASA satellite imagery to track global tundra ecosystems for decades, researchers have found that the region has become greener and warmer air and soil temperatures are driving plant growth.
The study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, is the first to measure land cover changes spanning the entire Arctic tundra, from Alaska and Canada to Siberia. The vegetation was analyzed using Landsat satellite data, a joint project between NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). By “greening,” researchers mean plants that grow more vigorously, become denser, or cover a larger area.
“The Arctic tundra is one of the coldest biomes on Earth, but it also heats up faster than others. The greening we see in the Arctic is actually only one of the consequences of global climate change – it is a bioscale response to rising air temperatures”.
Logan Berner, ecologist and global change specialist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff
When tundra vegetation changes, it affects not only the wildlife that depends on certain plants but also the people living in the region. Plants will absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, but higher temperatures will cause the permafrost to thaw, thereby releasing greenhouse gases. The research is part of NASA’s Arctic Boreal Experiment (ABoVE), which aims to better understand how ecosystems respond to warming.
The scientists used Landsat data and additional calculations to estimate the peak levels of greenery per year for each of 50,000 randomly selected tundra sites. Between 1985 and 2016 about 38% of parcels across Alaska, Canada, and western Eurasia are greener. This figure in the next 15 years may grow by half.