Another benefit of climate change? NASA says the Arctic is 'greening'

NASA studies details of a greening Arctic


Using 29 years of data from Landsat satellites, researchers at NASA have found extensive greening in the vegetation across Alaska and Canada. Rapidly increasing temperatures in the Arctic have led to longer growing seasons and changing soils for the plants. Scientists have observed grassy tundras changing to scrublands, and shrub growing bigger and denser. From 1984-2012, extensive greening has occurred in the tundra of Western Alaska, the northern coast of Canada, and the tundra of Quebec and Labrador. CREDIT NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Cindy Starr
Using 29 years of data from Landsat satellites, researchers at NASA have found extensive greening in the vegetation across Alaska and Canada. Rapidly increasing temperatures in the Arctic have led to longer growing seasons and changing soils for the plants. Scientists have observed grassy tundras changing to scrublands, and shrub growing bigger and denser. From 1984-2012, extensive greening has occurred in the tundra of Western Alaska, the northern coast of Canada, and the tundra of Quebec and Labrador.
CREDIT NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Cindy Starr

The northern reaches of North America are getting greener, according to a NASA study that provides the most detailed look yet at plant life across Alaska and Canada. In a changing climate, almost a third of the land cover – much of it Arctic tundra – is looking more like landscapes found in warmer ecosystems.

With 87,000 images taken from Landsat satellites, converted into data that reflects the amount of healthy vegetation on the ground, the researchers found that western Alaska, Quebec and other regions became greener between 1984 and 2012. The new Landsat study further supports previous work that has shown changing vegetation in Arctic and boreal North America.

Landsat is a joint NASA/U.S. Geological Survey program that provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land vegetation in existence.

“It shows the climate impact on vegetation in the high latitudes,” said Jeffrey Masek, a researcher who worked on the study and the Landsat 9 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than elsewhere, which has led to longer seasons for plants to grow in and changes to the soils. Scientists have observed grassy tundras changing to shrublands, and shrubs growing bigger and denser – changes that could have impacts on regional water, energy and carbon cycles.

With Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 data, Masek and his colleague Junchang Ju, a remote sensing scientist at Goddard, found that there was extensive greening in the tundra of western Alaska, the northern coast of Canada, and the tundra of Quebec and Labrador. While northern forests greened in Canada, they tended to decline in Alaska. Overall, the scientists found that 29.4 percent of the region greened up, especially in shrublands and sparsely vegetated areas, while 2.9 percent showed vegetation decline.

“The greening trend was unmistakable,” the researchers wrote in an April 2016 paper inRemote Sensing of Environment.

Previous surveys of the vegetation had taken a big-picture view of the region using coarse-resolution satellite sensors. To get a more detailed picture of the 4.1 million square-mile area, scientists used the Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellites.

Landsat, like other satellite missions, can use the amount of visible and near-infrared light reflected by the green, leafy vegetation of grasses, shrubs and trees to characterize the vegetation. Then, with computer programs that track each individual pixel of data over time, researchers can see if an area is greening – if more vegetation is growing, or if individual plants are getting larger and leafier. If, however, the vegetation becomes sparser, the scientists would classify that area as browning.

Researchers have used similar techniques to study Arctic and northern vegetation with other satellite instruments, such as the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). But Landsat can see smaller differences across a landscape – it takes one measurement for each 30-by-30 meter (98-by-98 foot) parcel of land, which is about the size of a baseball diamond. AVHRR collected one measurement for each 4-by-4 kilometer (2.5-by-2.5 mile) area.

“We can see more detail with Landsat, and we can see the trend more reliably,” Ju said. With finer-resolution and better calibrated data from Landsat, the researchers were able to mask out areas that burned, or are covered in water, to focus on vegetation changes. The more detailed look – now available to other researchers as well – will also let scientists see if a correlation exists between habitat characteristics and greening or browning trends.

“The resolution with Landsat is drastically improved, it lets you look at the local effects of things like topography, such as in areas where you might have small woodlands or open areas,” Masek said. “You can do detailed studies of how climate impacts vary with geography.”

Adding the Landsat study to previous studies using the AVHRR sensor also adds to the certainty of what’s going on, Masek said. While the two tools to measure the northern vegetation did produce different results in some places, overall the trend was the similar – more plants, or bigger plants, in the Arctic reaches of North America.

With the higher resolution Landsat data, the researchers also found a lot of differences within areas – one pixel would be brown, and its neighbors green, noted Ju. “It’s very localized,” he said. “The vegetation is responding to the microclimates. That’s the benefit of using Landsat data, is that we can reveal this spatial variation over very short distances.”

With the large map complete, researchers will focus on these short distances – looking at the smaller scale to see what might control the greening patterns, whether it’s local topography, nearby water sources, or particular types of habitat. They also plan to investigate forested areas, particularly in the greening Quebec.

“One of the big questions is, ‘Will forest biomes migrate with warming climate?’ There hasn’t been much evidence of it to date,” Masek said. “But we can zoom in and see if it’s changing.”


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Tom Halla
June 3, 2016 2:12 am

I am sure someone will decry the destruction of the biome comprising barren wastes.:-)

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 3, 2016 2:46 am

Almost certainly

Reply to  TinyCO2
June 3, 2016 3:37 am

An that very special orchid / frog / tortoise species that is unique to that area and risks extermination “if the current trend continues”.
since boreal forest is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, this is obviously yet another negative feedback. No wonder that the climate system is so stable.

James Bull
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 3, 2016 7:05 am

It will probably turn out to be worse than we (or they) thought
James Bull

June 3, 2016 2:13 am

Um, could it be Umm, more Co2 in the atmosphere and therefore less open stomata and higher drought tolerance like everywhere else.

Tom Yoke
Reply to  bobl
June 3, 2016 4:25 pm

I was also struck by that. Not a single word or acknowledgment of what almost certainly the obvious cause the greening: CO2 fertilization.
Man, these guys sure do want to “deny” the obvious.

June 3, 2016 2:33 am

Well obviously temperature has NOTHING to do with it, not this century, anyway.
Before the El Nino spike there has been zero warming up there.

Reply to  AndyG55
June 3, 2016 6:57 am

First thing I looked at too Andy…
Amazing isn’t it….

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Latitude
June 3, 2016 7:32 pm

Not correct. The North pole is not representative of the Arctic region, which has definitely been warmer the past few years. Probably has more to do with open water effects on temps as sea ice has been reduced with later freeze and earlier melt. Still not a bad thing or even a big one.

Ian H
June 3, 2016 2:34 am

The whole planet is greening thanks to CO2 fertilisation, something which this article seems to take great pains not to mention at all creating the impression that warming is the only possible cause. Leaving out something so vital is not a simple mistake. I’d call it deliberately deceptive and dishonest.

John Silver
Reply to  Ian H
June 3, 2016 3:49 am

That is the MO of the grantees.

Reply to  John Silver
June 3, 2016 1:56 pm

The Nattering Nabobs of Negativism – no less!
[With apologies to Spiro T. Agnew].

Ernest Bush
Reply to  John Silver
June 5, 2016 5:51 am

Auto, as one who lived in Maryland during the time of Spiro Agnew, let me say to you that you should never apologize about anything to Spiro Agnew. He was a bigger crook that Nixon ever was and actually spent time in jail for his crimes.

June 3, 2016 2:35 am

“Rapidly increasing temperatures in the Arctic have led to longer growing seasons and changing soils for the plants.”
And in what way is this at all a problem ?????

Reply to  AndyG55
June 3, 2016 7:40 am

The government agencies think ice is desirable. They cry for its loss.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Gamecock
June 3, 2016 7:35 pm

They’ve never seen it outside their drink glass!

June 3, 2016 2:37 am

Same type of increase in vegetation has been observed in canopy of the redwoods of California. Growth attributed to increase in CO2.
I’ve seen no downside to increasing levels of CO2 in atmosphere.

Reply to  jarthuroriginal
June 3, 2016 3:22 am

I do, I have to mow the lawn more often!

Reply to  bobl
June 3, 2016 4:58 pm

Ah, but it’s good exercise 🙂

John Silver
June 3, 2016 2:45 am

Photons builds plants from CO2.
Less aerosols –> more photons reaches the plants.
Also, more CO2 gives more chlorophyll in the individual leaves.

Reply to  John Silver
June 3, 2016 8:46 am

Hi John Silver, – There is a limit to light intensity (more photon excitation energy) leaves respond well to. At high energy (flux)
different plants react differently; in general leaves must protect their photo-synthesis “machinery” when flux becomes disruptive.
Photo-oxidative stress (physiologically increases leaf reactive oxygen) induces the protective response called photo- inhibition.
I don’t mean to imply you do not know this. Rather want to point
out that greenhouse growing (& developed country field crops) under elevated CO2 greening chlorophyll is partly a factor of the robust phosphorus fertilization regimen, which overcomes some effects reactive oxygen would otherwise instigate.

John Silver
Reply to  gringojay
June 4, 2016 3:47 am

Who is talking about high energy flux? You are, not me.
This is the Arctic, the change is from too low level, to not so low level.
Have you ever visited the North? I was born there, every photon counts.

Reply to  John Silver
June 4, 2016 9:09 am

Plants are not uniform in their tolerance to light. This means more photons for plants that are adapted in their photosynthetic “machinery” to, what I will term for them, low photons will respond to , what I will term for them, high photons.
High (for a given plant) photon flux interferes with several sub-systems in the chloroplast. The practical relevance of what I am
trying to explain may be relevant to the original post.
Simply put: observe the plant leaf and if the color is deep dark green & would normally be leaf green then that is a symptom of
oxidative stress; which in this context relates to longer high photon flux. The deep dark green coloration is not from nitrogen,
but is from the anthocyanins’ pigmentation (reddish blue purple); which the plant has spent resources producing to protect itself from oxidative stress induced by high photon flux.
A lot of tropical vegetation is deep dark green because of anthoyanin in the chloroplast among the green chlorophyll. It
is protective against the high photon level those plants have evolved to live with.
Many temperate climate plants are not productive in the tropics because they are not selected to cope with the oxidative stress; many of them may live & yet not be productive (speaking in terms of food crops).
For the greening Arctic this may be relative to any succession of
the kind of plants that have begun to predominate in any micro-climate niche; which original post suggests has been occurring.
My 1st impression upon seeing the given photo was the variation of green hue depths & wondering if the researchers equipment had any way of quantifying the anthocyanin (think leaf anti-oxidant) component, if any, in the “greening”.

Mark - Helsinki
June 3, 2016 2:52 am

well, i,i, maybe, erm, it has to go green before it turns into a tropical swamp 😀

June 3, 2016 3:05 am

Wouldn’t you think that the greens might be, ah, sort of, um, pleased that the World is becoming, you know, like more green? The clue’s in the name. Instead of which they appear to be determined to remove all of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so exterminating all multicellular life on the planet. They appear to be inordinately fond of bacteria and really should rename themselves accordingly.

John Silver
Reply to  cephus0
June 3, 2016 3:56 am


June 3, 2016 3:09 am

The have been banging these headlines out for a while now
2003 – “Global garden gets greener”

June 3, 2016 3:13 am

Not sure why we should be surprised-
“An ancient forest has thawed from under a melting glacier in Alaska and is now exposed to the world for the first time in more than 1,000 years.
Stumps and logs have been popping out from under southern Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier — a 36.8-square-mile (95.3 square kilometers) river of ice flowing into a lake near Juneau — for nearly the past 50 years. However, just within the past year or so, researchers based at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau have noticed considerably more trees popping up, many in their original upright position and some still bearing roots and even a bit of bark, the Juneau Empire first reported last week”

June 3, 2016 3:17 am

Reminds me of pres. Obama warning the people of alaska that summers might get warmer, so they possibly could grow their own food. Like they would see that as a problem 😉

Jack Lee
June 3, 2016 3:22 am

A greener northern sector? This may have happen before, Alaska reveals an ancient forest that got cover with Ice about a 1000 years ago.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Jack Lee
June 3, 2016 7:42 pm

Did happen. Many times. Might even happen again. Perhaps soon. Perhaps not. Feel like panicking now?
Should we chuck the whole world’s economic system in the trash and substitute Socialism- the one system we have proof doesn’t work?

June 3, 2016 3:52 am

One more proof that nobody fighting CO2 should be allowed to call herself “green”.

Leon Brozyna
June 3, 2016 4:17 am

Green is good … barren is bad
just as
Warm is wonderful … cold is cruel
I’ll take green and warm any day … the alarmists can keep their cold and barren world.

Reply to  Leon Brozyna
June 3, 2016 6:49 am

Yes, you almost get the idea the the warmunists believe that the perfect planet would have a dozen people living in a world-wide desert.

Bob Boder
Reply to  CaligulaJones
June 3, 2016 10:01 am

World wide ice field that is.

Reply to  CaligulaJones
June 3, 2016 11:22 am

Bob Boder June 3, 2016 at 10:01 am
World wide ice field that is.
Yes, of course, sorry about that. Ice ages good, warm weather bad.
So, to reiterate: their perfect planet would be a dozen people living on a world wide ice field.
They might want to check what happened to the Neanderthals when they tried that, though…

June 3, 2016 4:35 am

Good Post 🙂

June 3, 2016 4:38 am

It’s hilarious NASA didn’t even mention “evil” CO2’s fertilization effect…
NASA satellite data was used in the recent peer-reviewed paper (Zhu et al 2016), which attributed CO2 fertilization for increasing global greening by 25~50%. NASA, of course, has a ban on making ANY references to all the positive effects of CO2 fertilization or global warming:
-Increased crop yields
-Increased arable land in Northern Latitudes.
-increased phytoplankton biomass.
-extended treeline in Northern latitudes.
-longer growing seasons.
-earlier Springs.
-shorter winters
-less crop frost loss.
-global greening
-fewer exposure deaths
-slightly higher levels of precipitation
-plants become more drought resistant
-plants require less water from reduced internal water loss from shrinking leaf stomata
-less heating required during winters.

Bruce Cobb
June 3, 2016 4:56 am

Uh-oh, that means decreased albedo, and the famous “arctic death spiral”.

Steve Reddish
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 3, 2016 5:38 am

But, wouldn’t greener plants mean less induced warming, as extra energy is absorbed by plants, which convert that energy into extra plant material?

June 3, 2016 5:59 am

I’m not sure if they are saying it’s a good thing or bad thing. I just get the impression that they want more money.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Alex
June 3, 2016 6:22 am

Nor do they have to say it. They know the Greenie evangelists will, though. Like clockwork.

Paul Coppin
June 3, 2016 6:14 am

All that coal replenishment has to come from somewhere. So the earth is naturally sinking all that “released” CO2? Who’d a thunk it.

June 3, 2016 6:36 am

Is there a link to the original story? I like to pass on the original links because some knucklehead clowns won’t read this site, but will read the same bleeping story from the source. So much for open minds.

June 3, 2016 7:33 am

Actually, this is a perfectly good study, at least in principle. They used satellite sensing to get quantitative data at ever higher resolutions, and monitored for 3 decades. This is just what the Landsat/Seasat and Mission To Planet Earth programs were set up to do. We now have high quality, long term data sets. If it has not been done already, the next step would be a “boots on the ground” check of various selected target areas to the sensor data and the assumptions which go into the interpretation of that data. Low level aerial surveys might get the job done handily, in remote areas.
It should not be too hard to skip past the CAGW and Climate Change spin that the NASA PR gang will attach to everything.

Reply to  TonyL
June 3, 2016 9:22 am

How is it spin? Those areas are greening because the temperatures in that region are increasing rapidly.

Reply to  Chris
June 3, 2016 9:27 am

…No, they are “greening” because of the extra CO2..that they NEED !!

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Chris
June 3, 2016 9:55 am

How is what spin? Reading comprehension much?

Bob Boder
Reply to  Chris
June 3, 2016 9:59 am

how horrible! its getting greener and warmer. that’s only happened a thousand times before something awful must be happening.

Reply to  Chris
June 3, 2016 3:13 pm

The only problem is that those areas aren’t warming, much less rapidly.

John Silver
Reply to  Chris
June 5, 2016 6:23 am

No, I have already explained it.

Reply to  Chris
June 5, 2016 12:19 pm

I am not sure about direction of temperature variation in that region in regards to commentators different opinions on that subject. What wish to add is that the greening effect of CO2 is not highly affected by temperature being a bit higher.
Given enough warmth for any given plant to resume growth (or new seedling to survive) higher CO2 comes into play by “greening” it up faster. As a consequence of this it’s assimilated carbon ( from CO2) provides it with more potential to take advantage of whatever is the subsequent growing season temperature range; which, as weather varies year to year & place to place.
In regards to the different declarations about temperature on this old post I suggest that in the Arctic it may be the soil temperature which is a factor. My thinking is that whatever the average air temperature is many parts of the greener sectors have benefitted from either/or earlier benign soil temperatures & shorter 24 hr. periods during which active roots endure steep range of temperature decline.

Gerald Machnee
June 3, 2016 9:32 am

I was in the high Arctic in the early 1970’s when it was cooling. At that time people who had been there 10 to 20 years earlier told me that there was more vegetation earlier. In addition can we get pictures from the 1930’s and 1940’s when it was also warmer and do a comparison.

Reply to  Gerald Machnee
June 3, 2016 11:14 am

Yes, this could simply be a natural cycle of warming repeating itself. Yet even scientists assume automatically that it is due to global warming. It’s too soon to know one way or the other.

June 3, 2016 11:45 am

Higher CO2 leads to seed bearing grasses (in general) maturing earlier. The “sugar” made more readily in leaves (source) reaches the point where it no longer has place to send it to (sink). Full sugar then becomes a signal for transitioning from vegetative growth to reproductive genes (going to seed). Trees/shrubs do not (in general) respond to higher CO2 by maturing earlier.
The grasses’ leaf matter that dies back at seasons end provides organic matter that in the spring ties up phosphorus. Tree/shrub seeds dispersed by fauna (birds/mammals) germinate & compete with grass roots for phosphorus. The tree/shrub seedling main root is also going deeper than grasses (in general, exceptions like Vetiver grass exist) & thus get more of the nitrogen that ice melt/rain leached downward in the soil profile.
Next season when the tree/shrub has been rooted it has more root stores to grow better than the grass neighbor early on; likewise is better positioned to out-compete the grass for phosphorus with root secretions (organic acids) that free up the phosphorus. Meanwhile the grass (& annual weeds/fobs) must dedicate anywhere up to 50% of their leaf assimilates to developing a lateral root network that can forage for phosphorus – at the expense of developing deep main roots for nitrogen acquisition.
As the grass, relative to the tree/shrub (sown by fauna), deals with relatively less phosphorus there are changes in the leaf in a set of adaptations that prioritize it’s phosphorus. Normally leaf sugar is exported from the chloroplast conjugated with phosphorus & so it shifts the CO2 carbon assimilated into (more & bigger) starch granules in order to have more phosphorus to create ATP (& other phosphorus actors) it needs to deal with living stresses. Transition from vegetative life to maximal seed filling is related to the sugar levels and this ties in to the high CO2 phenomena of reduced seed protein; which is to say seed quality has some relevance.
The tree/shrub, for it’s part, still has to deal with relatively low phosphorus (unlike on modern farms/greenhouses/hobby fertilized plants). In this context (low phosphorus) causes changes in the architecture (spatial & temporal) of the above ground parts in addition to any root structure adaptive changes.
In general in response to low phosphorus the upper canopy may extend (leaves grow to spread) but mid-level branching is forgone; due in part to auxin plant hormone going up (polar auxin transport) that holds down (cytokinin photo-hormone) branching on the upright trunk/stem. The tree/shrub roots accessing deeper soil nitrogen allow assorted greenery pathways to continue, so the dynamic is not one dimensional; with nitrogen the plant can make the amino acid tryptophan inside it self, which is a precursor for making (bio-synthesizing) auxin photo-hormone.
The reported sub-sahara shrub/tree increase follows a similar dynamic; the Acacia tree has a good upper canopy (auxin) with limited mid-level branches (auxin holds down cytokinin). Ruminants can get under the shade & their excrement adds nitrogen for greenery.
If I don’t pick-axe out the Acacia seedlings on my sub-tropical grazing parcel the land converts to brush that will grow tall & block sun from the grazing grass. Since tropical soils are considerably rain leached they have a significant aluminum content & this binds-up phosphorus (as does soil high in iron) however, calcium also binds up phosphorus in its own way.

June 3, 2016 5:06 pm

Whatever happened to OCO-2? …other than the reality of what it showed did not match the simulations.

John Robertson
June 3, 2016 6:12 pm

Oh no.
Much more of this and the area of Canada extending from High Level to Hay River (South-North) stretching from Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains (East-West) will be warm enough to support agriculture.
Such a tragedy.

June 3, 2016 10:42 pm

The expansion and growth of green coverage is staggering but why is it only being confirmed with satellite photos now ? This has been happening for decades and yet silence . It is now so blatantly obvious and unavoidable that the ongoing warming cycle we are currently in combined with increased levels of that plant food CO2 has resulted in an explosion of green growth covering millions of square miles . Why as this fact hidden from the public … who knew ?
Lets se now animal kingdom friends would you rather have flourishing plants ,trees and flowers
or have humans starve the forests of CO2 in a naïve and vain attempt to lower the earth ‘s
temperature ? Oh yes and as the temperature theoretically is lowered we will be using more fossil fuel . How did this $$trillion dollar scam even get lift off NASA ?

Johann Wundersamer
June 4, 2016 1:50 am

ain’t that good news.

June 4, 2016 4:25 pm

The general greening notwithstanding, did anyone see an explanation for what appears to be the large, dark brown colored region around and south of the Yukon delta? Or is that just a map-shading artifact?

June 4, 2016 10:41 pm

I think they’re rubbing their upper Eschelon sats in our face, while we’ve been dutifully working towards the betterment of mankind, NASA scientists have been sitting around for 30 years watching the grass grow.

June 4, 2016 10:58 pm

Looking at the miniscule areas occupied by humans puts into perspective why this massive exponential green growth is going to be getting a lot more attention in the near future . There aren’t enough of us pesky
humans to even put a dent in the readily visible tsunami of green growth . Green activists want less CO2 meaning less forest and plant growth . Makes perfect sense doesn’t it ?
How long has NASA been sitting on the greening phenomena backed up by these pictures ? How many
scientists knew and haven’t said a word ? Pretty obvious where present day fossil fuels came from and
where most of this greening is going to end up .

June 5, 2016 4:48 pm

These satellite photos have been taken for decades and we know that Canada and Alaska haven’t just turned into a growing giant green forest ? Climate crystal ballers love their models but photos can be
trended too . Let’s see the same rendition with one from 1984 and trended 30 years out based on the existing evidence of annual changes . The giant green fur ball is on its way .
Humans self important belief that we are landscape and climate manipulators is likely going to be blown out of the water when the reality of unstoppable green growth doubles and triples .
All the Priuses in the world are not going to stop it but don’t greens want more green anyway ?
Why would “Green Parties ” support policies intended to reduce the greening of the earth , like reducing CO2 ? Maybe it’s about a different type of green after all .
When did governments know the earth was greening at such a rapid rate ?

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