Surprise: Earths' Biosphere is Booming, Satellite Data Suggests CO2 the Cause

Eco Worriers: “CO2 is a pollutant!” Gaia: “Tell that to the biosphere.” Biosphere: “Yumm, burp!”

This animation depicts the 10-year average from 1997 to 2007 of SeaWiFS ocean chlorophyll concentration and land Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data on a rotating globe. 

The SeaWiFS instrument aboard the Seastar satellite has been collecting ocean data since 1997. By monitoring the color of reflected light via satellite, scientists can determine how successfully plant life is photosynthesizing. A measurement of photosynthesis is essentially a measurement of successful growth, and growth means successful use of ambient carbon. This animation shows an average of 10 years worth of SeaWiFS data. Dark blue represents warmer areas where there tends to be a lack of nutrients, and greens and reds represent cooler nutrient-rich areas which support life. The nutrient-rich areas include coastal regions where cold water rises from the sea floor bringing nutrients along and areas at the mouths of rivers where the rivers have brought nutrients into the ocean from the land.

See an animation of the Earth;s Biosphere: 512×288 (30 fps) MPEG-1 10 MB. More here at NASA SVS

In praise of CO2

With less heat and less carbon dioxide, the planet could become less hospitable and less green

Lawrence Solomon

Financial Post, Don Mills, Ontario

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Planet Earth is on a roll! GPP is way up. NPP is way up. To the surprise of those who have been bearish on the planet, the data shows global production has been steadily climbing to record levels, ones not seen since these measurements began.

GPP is Gross Primary Production, a measure of the daily output of the global biosphere –the amount of new plant matter on land. NPP is Net Primary Production, an annual tally of the globe’s production. Biomass is booming. The planet is the greenest it’s been in decades, perhaps in centuries.

Until the 1980s, ecologists had no way to systematically track growth in plant matter in every corner of the Earth — the best they could do was analyze small plots of one-tenth of a hectare or less. The notion of continuously tracking global production to discover the true state of the globe’s biota was not even considered.

Then, in the 1980s, ecologists realized that satellites could track production, and enlisted NASA to collect the data. For the first time, ecologists did not need to rely on rough estimates or anecdotal evidence of the health of the ecology: They could objectively measure the land’s output and soon did — on a daily basis and down to the last kilometer.

The results surprised Steven Running of the University of Montana and Ramakrishna Nemani of NASA, scientists involved in analyzing the NASA satellite data. They found that over a period of almost two decades, the Earth as a whole became more bountiful by a whopping 6.2%. About 25% of the Earth’s vegetated landmass — almost 110 million square kilometres — enjoyed significant increases and only 7% showed significant declines. When the satellite data zooms in, it finds that each square metre of land, on average, now produces almost 500 grams of greenery per year.

Why the increase? Their 2004 study, and other more recent ones, point to the warming of the planet and the presence of CO2, a gas indispensable to plant life. CO2 is nature’s fertilizer, bathing the biota with its life-giving nutrients. Plants take the carbon from CO2 to bulk themselves up — carbon is the building block of life — and release the oxygen, which along with the plants, then sustain animal life. As summarized in a report last month, released along with a petition signed by 32,000 U. S. scientists who vouched for the benefits of CO2: “Higher CO2 enables plants to grow faster and larger and to live in drier climates. Plants provide food for animals, which are thereby also enhanced. The extent and diversity of plant and animal life have both increased substantially during the past half-century.”

From the 2004 abstract: Our results indicate that global changes in climate have eased several critical climatic constraints to plant growth, such that net primary production increased 6% (3.4 petagrams of carbon over 18 years) globally. The largest increase was in tropical ecosystems. Amazon rain forests accounted for 42% of the global increase in net primary production, owing mainly to decreased cloud cover and the resulting increase in solar radiation.

Lush as the planet may now be, it is as nothing compared to earlier times, when levels of CO2 and Earth temperatures were far higher. In the age of the dinosaur, for example, CO2 levels may have been five to 10 times higher than today, spurring a luxuriantly fertile planet whose plant life sated the immense animals of that era. Planet Earth is also much cooler today than during the hothouse era of the dinosaur, and cooler than it was 1,000 years ago during the Medieval Warming Period, when the Vikings colonized a verdant Greenland. Greenland lost its colonies and its farmland during the Little Ice Age that followed, and only recently started to become green again.

This blossoming Earth could now be in jeopardy, for reasons both natural and man-made. According to a growing number of scientists, the period of global warming that we have experienced over the past few centuries as Earth climbed out of the Little Ice Age is about to end. The oceans, which have been releasing their vast store of carbon dioxide as the planet has warmed — CO2 is released from oceans as they warm and dissolves in them when they cool — will start to take the carbon dioxide back. With less heat and less carbon dioxide, the planet could become less hospitable and less green, especially in areas such as Canada’s Boreal forests, which have been major beneficiaries of the increase in GPP and NPP.

Doubling the jeopardy for Earth is man. Unlike the many scientists who welcome CO2 for its benefits, many other scientists and most governments believe carbon dioxide to be a dangerous pollutant that must be removed from the atmosphere at all costs. Governments around the world are now enacting massive programs in an effort to remove as much as 80% of the carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

If these governments are right, they will have done us all a service. If they are wrong, the service could be all ill, with food production dropping world wide, and the countless ecological niches on which living creatures depend stressed. The second order effects could be dire, too. To bolster food production, humans will likely turn to energy intensive manufactured fertilizers, depleting our store of non-renewable resources. Techniques to remove carbon from the atmosphere also sound alarms. Carbon sequestration, a darling of many who would mitigate climate change, could become a top inducer of earthquakes, according to Christian Klose, a geohazards researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Because the carbon sequestration schemes tend to be located near cities, he notes, carbon-sequestration-caused earthquakes could exact an unusually high toll.

Amazingly, although the risks of action are arguably at least as real as the risks of inaction, Canada and other countries are rushing into Earth-altering carbon schemes with nary a doubt. Environmentalists, who ordinarily would demand a full-fledged environmental assessment before a highway or a power plant can be built, are silent on the need to question proponents or examine alternatives.

Earth is on a roll. Governments are too. We will know soon enough if we’re rolled off a cliff.

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Roger Carr

Picked this up in ICECAP and posted it in a couple places already this morning, Anthony, being absolutely delighted both by its content and its inspiring message. Earth, you are beautiful, and just so much bigger than any wishful doomsayer.

Leon Brozyna

Good to see this posted here. You realize that this is the type of story liable to give an AGW True Believer a hissy fit ~ a coal-fired electric power plant turns out to be green!


Found this yesterday at Canada’s National Post. Lawrence Solomon is former warmer and a long time environmental advocate who parted ways with the AGW crowd a few years ago when he began a series of stories based on interviews with climate skeptics. The series is entitled “The Deniers” – the same name as his nonfiction book released this year.
His work needs more exposure outside of Canada. Thanks Anthony.

Joe S

Anybody in this crowd recall from your days in elementary school, the “Weekly Reader”? I wonder if an article like this would make their pages.
Poking around their site, it didn’t take but seconds to find this…


Meanwhile, “global cooling” claims it first verified Polar Bear victim.


I’ve been kind of boggled that the “CO2 as pollutant” meme is not only still around, but has gained significant traction. When I first reviewed the subject in the 90s, it was abundantly clear that plant food (i.e. CO2) was a boon and not a burden except at absurdly high levels.
There are real pollutants, CO2 isn’t one of them, and trying to reduce available plant food is beyond insane, especially given the likely costs.
I normally just read instead of comment here, but I guess I’m on a roll tonight. 🙂

Denis Hopkins

I am a bit confused having read the post the other day that the CO2 measurements that suggested the Earth has gone from 280 to 380 ppm since the industrial age began was based on a false understanding of the processes involved in extracting ice core information.
So what do I trhink now?
the satellite data suggests more growth due to warming (oceans release more CO2) and more warming as a consequence.
Does this evidence of more growth not suggest a warmer Earth and more CO2? Is this not evidence of a Global Warming?
Or am I missing something?

I’m convinced carbon dioxide is not bad for the environment. However I find little reason to believe that the increase we’ve seen in CO2 levels are due to oceans warming up. The measured CO2 from Manua Loa and other places increase out of step with measured ocean temperatures. I am aware of the efforts of Jaworowski and others to reconcile earlier measurements with current records but simply from looking at the behaviour of the curves, Jaworowski’s hypothesis seem improbable. Thus “The oceans, which have been releasing their vast store of carbon dioxide as the planet has warmed — CO2 is released from oceans as they warm and dissolves in them when they cool — will start to take the carbon dioxide back.” is most likely misleading: CO2 levels will not decrease rapidly because oceans cool even if they indeed would cool (which we haven’t seen much of so far). If we stop emitting CO2, levels will decrease with an e-fold time around 40 years; not because oceans cool but because that is the uptake ratio of excess CO2 that we have seen in the 20th century.

An Engineer

This is a positive effect found in almost every biological feedback system today, but it won’t last, and is fragile. Triggering such an effect is almost certain indication of a failure in the first place.
Think of it as a helicopter buffer – when helicopters come to land they exert a downwards force which buffers the landing. No matter how fast your rotate the blades, no amount of buffer will soften a landing if you’re a falling as a fast as a brick.


If we are cooling long term CO2 will be critical to warm and feed the humans living on the margin. I don’t think CO2 has much warming effect, but it does have a strong fertilizing effect. With any luck by the time we start warming again we will have figured out the real climate sensitivity to CO2 and can regulate it if necessary.
I’ve seen more and more a consciousness that carbon encumbering in any form will be devastating to the poor of the earth. The ethics of this whole mess is gradually turning to compassion for the humans on this sphere, particularly now that saving the earth from CO2 inferno seems to be becoming unnecessary.
Soon, it will be a fair question to ask what is the motivation of those clinging to the carbon paradigm. It is becoming apparent that saving the earth is not the motive, for those who stick with the AGW illusion in the face of science that is debunking it.
How about Al Gore and his claim of $150,000,000 donated to his ad campaign from internet and ‘anonymous’ sources? Why would a source want to keep its donation secret if it was participating in saving the earth?

Shadow Step

What’s good for the earth is not necessary good for humans.

[…] Tags: carbon, carbon dioxide, co2, Earth Related Posts […]


Just an FYI, the premise that the so-called “AGW crowd” somehow advocates eliminating all CO2 from the atmosphere is patently false. With exceptions, most AGW proponents who urge cutting back on CO2 emissions understand the virtual impossibility of cutting emissions back to even current day levels. Even the very best IPCC “Emission Scenario” does not feature a 100 year reduction to quite our current levels. My personal opinion is that we should not place an absolute limit on CO2 concentrations, but work to cut down emissions as much as possible and invest in developing future technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, to yet-to-be-determined optimal level for the ecosystem, be it a bit higher or a bit lower than what we have today.
Leon, many of us object to coal power plants because of the coal mining industry. I urge you to visit the coal mines of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia before you continue to make the claim that we should support coal mining. This environmentalist supports nuclear power for a brighter tomorrow.


A question for y’ all:
Who should we listen to?
1. some TV weather presenter with no scientific qualifications?
2. the consensus of every single national science academy of every industrialized country on the planet that confirms the reality of anthropogenic climate change?
Clue: it’s not (1)
Talking of clues – get one.
REPLY: You forgot to add the 32,000 scientists that recently signed the Oregon Petition as choice 3. 🙂


Well now. There’s a surprise. I guess all those greenhouse florists that keep their greenhouses artificially at 1000ppm CO2 aren’t crazy after all.


It’s a shame that the Amazonian Rain Forests are being plowed under (an area the size of Rhode Island/year) to create agricultural land for Ethanol production. This may be the most stupid of many stupid things our current world leadership is allowing/encouraging via misguided energy/environmental policy.


I’m sure this won’t be much play in the media….It’s of course too positive, but
I’m sure Al Gore’s take will be:
of course our super duper computer models predicted this. My scientist friends tell me global warming climate change is just taking a breather , giving these plants time to grow, but rest assured soon the world’s fever will destroy these plants and the rest of “you”, if you don’t send money to my carbon offsetting company soon.


Maybe this will help to feed all the people.


You realize that even as the biosphere grows, the world’s biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming rate. Something with unforeseen consequences that could quickly balloon out of control.


I will make my contribution to Earth today, by taking my 5.7L V8 SS Commodore (Aussie V8 sedan) for a drive around town !

Fernando Mafili (in Brazil)

São Paulo + 22,0 ºC
Congratulations: your work is right.
Anthony: 3.2 mm is soap in the ocean. (foam)


It’s rather ironic isn’t it? The CO2 released by man’s actions and burgeoning population may be exactly what is needed to sustain that population. Now our govt’s are trying to remove it. O.K. Maybe Ironic isn’t the right term.

Hi Anthony!
I have a true believer at my website arguing that you are cherry picking the weather station bias. This fellow tries to claim that just as many stations are display a cooling bias because they are on grassy knolls or by water. I pointed out that this is unlikely to be a major source of error, but this guy persists. Any word from you would be nice.
REPLY Well it is really simple to refute, all of the census of station in the US is available on you can see the Excel spreadsheet and details of each station surveyed.
You can see the pictures of all stations surveyed.
The survey has a random component: volunteers that sign up, whom I don’t direct, they choose.
Anyone that thinks there is a directed cherry picking bias is welcome to take that data and prove it.

[…] According to NASA satellite data: Over a period of almost two decades, the Earth as a whole became more bountiful by a whopping 6.2%. About 25% of the Earth’s vegetated landmass — almost 110 million square kilometres — enjoyed significant increases and only 7% showed significant declines. When the satellite data zooms in, it finds that each square metre of land, on average, now produces almost 500 grams of greenery per year. […]

retired engineer

This is terrible! CO2 good for something? Blasphemy!
How dare the planet do something like this!
I’m sure, after some ‘adjustment’, they can fix it.


Don’t be too sure that the Carbon Cultists can’t turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear. Algae blooms in the Chesapeake Bay are caused by too many nutrients and cause oxygen starved water and fish kills. There’s going to be someone with a model that says that a similar event is going to be caused by CO2.

Eric Gamberg

Get ’em while you can.

Bruce Cobb

Gaia-worshipping AGW idiots should rejoice in the fact that man is helping to add a valuable, life-giving gas to the atmosphere. But of course they won’t, being not only idiots but hypocrites as well. The modern warming has also been a boon to mankind, increasing growing seasons and allowing food to be grown in places where it might be difficult to. “The Earth is burning, and we’re causing it!”, they cry. Er, no, and no. We’ve had a bit of a reprieve during the 20th century (a whopping .6C), and now we’re headed back into an LIA-type cooling. We’ll most definitely be needing any and all C02 we can get then.

Steve Stip

How can greens be opposed to green? They’ll find a way, I would bet on it.
When CO2 was first attacked, someone tried to show that benefits to plant life were superficial. That has been refuted lately, but I don’t remember where.

David Walton

WHAT THE HECK? I thought the US Supreme Court already settled this. CO2 is a pollutant. The only true green is one who refuses to exhale.

George Tobin

How much of that is more CO2 and how much is changing land use? Once people are drawn out of subsistence / slash and burn living and there is more investment and effort in less land with greater production per area, doesn’t that mean more land left to recover and regrow?
Besides, it is heresy to suggest any upside from a known deadly pollutant like CO2. The notion that more industrialization and economic growth could cause less pressure on land and more biomass growth is not permissible.

Strat Player

I mentioned this to a friend who if effect said “Yeah, but the plants have fewer nutrients”. Has anyone else heard this? Any links to data of this sort?
Thank you.

Well er

Talking of clues – get one.,

Except that some clues are better than others and there actually isn’t total concensus. The Wikipedia entry is largely based on NASA figures – here are details of what NASA have been doing with their figures of late:
and to backup the lack of concensus comment:
and why one should take all of this with a pinch of salt now that there are numerous agendas including career and political ones’

Steve Stip

Call me paranoid. Go ahead, but is this AGW thing a deep plot to discredit science? Consider the egg on many faces if the weather continues to not heat up and particularly if it gets colder.
Scientists are known for their objectivity and dispassion but they have to eat like the rest of us. Too bad they apparently let their desire for grant money lead them into a trap.


I think they may be referencing studies that show cultivated (as in farm grown) plants have fewer nutrients than the same plants grown in non-farmed soils. I don’t think it has anything to do with this subject though.


MA writes…”Talking of clues – get one.
Here’s how the sacrosanct Wiki censors any AGW references that violate the True Faith…

Bruce Cobb

My personal opinion is that we should not place an absolute limit on CO2 concentrations, but work to cut down emissions as much as possible and invest in developing future technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, to yet-to-be-determined optimal level for the ecosystem, be it a bit higher or a bit lower than what we have today.
Utter rubbish, counters. C02 is beneficial – or didn’t you read the article? We need MORE of it, not less. Do try to keep up.

Ranger Joe

There is empirical fossil evidence that shows poor, delicate Polar Bears have thrived through every climate oscillation since they were a species of Pleistocene Grizzly Bear that migrated to the ancient polar regions and turned white to hunt fat, yummy seals—(and drink colas with the penguins.)


“Yeah, but the plants have fewer nutrients”
Yeah, I don’t think so. Too many things influence nutrient values in plants for that to be a blanket statement.
This is a positive effect found in almost every biological feedback system today, but it won’t last, and is fragile. Triggering such an effect is almost certain indication of a failure in the first place.
How in the world can you know that? Is there some upper limit to the amount of biological matter the world can grow?
It looks to me like plant life adapting to conditions that favor more growth. Is it too much of a good thing? Temperatures aren’t rising, plants are growing more efficiently. This is failure?


Go ahead, but is this AGW thing a deep plot to discredit science?
Somehow, I don’t think it would benefit NASA to discredit science. I think it’s a case of a few folks with an agenda and a bunch of willing idiots.

Mike Lawler

It’s important to remember that this is only one aspect of global climate change. There may be benefits resulting from increased plant photosynthesis, but the most important issue is how climate change will impact human populations on the whole. The earth is much more populous now than ever before, with 10s or 100s of millions of people who will be in a bad way as sea level rises or precipitation shifts, or the snowpack that formerly fed their rivers vanishes early in the year. The CO2 fertilization effect is useless to the farmer who receives no water. Citizens of first world nations will take advantage of their wealth and technological savvy to pay for adaptation to these changes, but many people who live in poverty now are likely to suffer even more.

Mike from Canmore

I think this has to be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, the world is “greener”. Yes, CO2 has something to do with it. Is it the only thing? More than likely not. Does it have to do with the human race’s maintenance and it’s desire to steward it’s “house” and keep it green. Yep. It’s kind of like the recent temp. drop. While the sun will probably prove out to be a a significant contributor to the drop, it will more than likely not all due to the sun. The system is complex and we are just beginning to understand it. Personally, the only conclusion I’ve come to is CO2 is nowhere close to being the primary driver of the earth’s greenhouse effect and the chance of catastrophic positive feedbacks kicking in is getting more and more remote everyday. When one jumps on a “silver bullet”; s/he usually ends up missing and getting shot instead. Much like what is happening to the AGW catastrophe movement.
Counter: What turns you off so much about the E/K, WV coal plants? Is it the working conditions? Just curious. I don’t know enough about them to have an opinion. Vanouver is a long way away from from there.

Bruce Cobb

Mike, how climate change impacts human populations on the whole is an entirely separate issue. C02’s effect on climate is limited, and man’s contribution of C02 only about 3%, making his effect on climate very small. It is, in fact changes in our sun which have a far greater impact. So, instead of worrying about C02, which has almost no effect on climate anyway, the answer is to adapt.
Oh, and by the way, most of the global warming hysteria about rising sea levels, melting ice caps, droughts, floods, etc. etc. is just plain hype, intended to frighten people into action – action which is as useless as it is stupid and asinine.

D. Overcast

Not a usual commenter but am a frequent reader since I found this site. Thanks Anthony for all your hard work. This site is my favorite one to forward to my “greenwashed” friends because of it’s high quality and easy to follow links that allow a person to test for him/her self the truth of the statements.
Just a comment to MA and his/her assertion that we should agree with misguided and politicized “consensus” of the IPCC scientist, who incidently don’t all seem to agree…. My question is what does “consensus” have to do with scientific facts. As we continue to improve our means of science toward understanding our Global Climate, why must we hold on to “theories” that now longer hold up to the facts we are discovering? I mean come on…at one time in our history, the “consensus” of the great minds of the world was that the world was FLAT! Turns out they were wrong too… 🙂


Well, this is loaded forum.
CO2 is certainly beneficial to the plants (any high school kid knows that). It is not per se a pollutant, nor is mercury, crude oil, or radium, except if the localized concentration are above what is found in nature without human intervention. Mercury, extracted from ore and concentrated in fish is a pollutant; crude oil, when it is taken from the ground and spilled on the ocean is a pollutant; and Marie Curie’s lab was polluted with radium that when in the soil is harmless.
As for CO2, it is manifest that higher concentration in the atmosphere modifies the global context in a way that is utterly unpredictable. Plants grow more and faster? Great! But what are the side effects of above normal concentration of it? We have an hint that it drives our planet’s temperature up. That’s a major side effect.
When man plays God, and affects Earth’s future by rapid change in his global environment, he is playing dice. Who needs that?

Robert Wilson

In response to how the great minds of the world at one time thought the world was flat I find it interesting to look at books about how CO2 is affecting our climate from five or more years ago. Take for instance Robert Watts book on Innovative Energy Strategies for CO2 Stabilization ( its amazing what was thought of as innovative 10 years ago versus what is thought as innovative nowadays.

An Inquirer

Amongst researchers, you likely are not going to persuade many by quoting Wikipedia. This open web-based fountain of information is full of errors and overwhelming biases. The problem is by no means limited to AGW topics.
As you mention national academies, it probably is worthy of note that the National Academy of Science in the United States essentially refuted a key cornerstone of the Third Assessement Report from the IPCC — Mann’s hockey stick. As you undoubtedly realize, the choices are far more numerous and complicated than the two you mentioned.
TO: counters
I have seen beautiful Appalachian mountain sides (or hill sides) laid waste by coal mining, and and it is easy to find cases where safety and waste concerns were not handled properly. Yet, I have also seen coal fields that were handled and restored in an environmentally-concerned manner. In fact, from an aesthetic point of view, I might take a restored coal field over a vista marred by windmills and ubiquitous powerlines. If the choice was between nuclear and coal, I probably would go along with your conclusion; however, I think the choice we need to choose is both.

Mike Lawler

I’m not sure why you say our contribution to CO2 is only 3%, given an increase of roughly 100 ppm since preindustrial concentrations of ~280 ppm. I agree that changes in solar radiation are critical for driving the long-timescale climate cycles on earth, but recent anthropogenic increases in gases like CO2, CH4, and N2O are sufficient to cause significant warming now and in the immediate future. The basic physics of this (energy balance, absorption cross-section of the molecules, etc.) is well understood. What is less well understood is how feedbacks in the climate system (e.g. changes in cloud cover) will act to intensify or reduce this warming Current climate models suggest that the result will be net warming, and while you may be skeptical of these models, the fact that the amount of greenhouse gases we have added to the atmosphere is large enough that it can impact the climate system is not a matter of controversy among climate scientists.

Jeff Alberts

Mike Lawler, the things you mention have always happened and will always happen. There’s no evidence of anything catastrophic occurring after 40 years of so-called “unprecedented” warming.

J. Peden

Citizens of first world nations will take advantage of their wealth and technological savvy to pay for adaptation to these changes, but many people who live in poverty now are likely to suffer even more.
Naw: we of the developed nations should instead take our due credit for our heroic contribution to global CO2 fertilization, possibly without which many more of the Earth’s poor would be worse off or not even existing to begin with – while there’s still time, since China and India, etc., are about to steal the glory, while adapting to “change”, and paying for it themselves, according to their own estimation of the ipcc “science” and its disasterizing.
But if you, Mike, wish to make a very personal tithe to the “Green” Church of your choice just to try to make sure your conscience is cleased, you are of course free to do so. Good luck with that tactic as well.