Increased CO2 levels are greening the Earth

Colin Jeffrey April 28, 2016

Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has meant that large parts of the Earth have shown significant greening over the last 35 years
Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has meant that large parts of the Earth have shown significant greening over the last 35 years
Boston University/R. Myneni
Researchers studying NASA satellite data on the Earth’s vegetation coverage have discovered that plants have significantly increased their leaf cover over the last 35 years to the point that new growth across the planet is equivalent to an area twice as large as the continental United States. According to the study, the largest contributor to this greening is the growing level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

Using data collected from instruments such as NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer mounted on the AquaProbe satellite and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (such as that deployed on NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite), an international team of researchers has determined that CO2 fertilization explains fully 70 percent of the greening effect observed.

Of the approximately 10 billion tons of carbon spewed into the atmosphere from human-created sources every year, about 50 percent is stored for the short-term in the oceans and in plants. Generally, this has been shared relatively evenly between vegetation and the seas acting as carbon sinks. Now, with an increased level of uptake in plants, as demonstrated by their increased leaf growth, there may be a slight shift in that storage towards the vegetation on land.

“While our study did not address the connection between greening and carbon storage in plants,” said research participant Shilong Piao of the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences at Peking University. “Other studies have reported an increasing carbon sink on land since the 1980s, which is entirely consistent with the idea of a greening Earth.” Read more