Oh Noes! Ecosystems are getting greener in the Arctic

Researchers develop technique to better predict how plants in cold regions respond to warming

DOE/LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY

In recent decades, scientists have noted a surge in Arctic plant growth as a symptom of climate change. But without observations showing exactly when and where vegetation has bloomed as the world’s coldest areas warm, it’s difficult to predict how vegetation will respond to future warming. Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have developed a new approach that may paint a more accurate picture of Arctic vegetation and our climate’s recent past – and future.

In a study published online Aug. 20 in Nature Climate Change, the researchers used satellite images taken over the past 30 years to track – down to a pixel representing approximately 25 square miles – the ebb and flow of plant growth in cold areas of the northern hemisphere, such as Alaska, the Arctic region of Canada, and the Tibetan Plateau.

The 30-year historic satellite data used in the study were collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. The data was processed by Boston University, and is hosted on NEX – the NASA Earth Exchange data archive.

At first, the satellite data showed what they expected – that as Arctic climates warmed, tree and plant growth increased. After comparing these observations with state-of-the-art climate models developed for CMIP5 – the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 – what they discovered next surprised them.

Current and predicted changes in areas around the world where vegetation responds strongly to warming. Shaded areas represent areas where vegetation growth was limited by cold temperatures at the start of the observational record (1982-1986) but was not by the corresponding year. Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 is a carbon emissions target to limit temperature increases to two degrees Celsius, while RCP 8.5 represents a scenario where carbon emissions are not limited and temperature increases exceed two degrees Celsius.
CREDIT Trevor Keenan and William Riley/Berkeley Lab

Their data analysis revealed that 16 percent of Earth’s vegetated land where plant growth was limited by cold temperatures three decades ago is no longer predominantly temperature-limited today, a result that was not reproduced by the CMIP5 models tested. “Our findings suggest that CMIP5’s predictions may have significantly underestimated changes in the Arctic ecosystem, and climate models will need to be improved to better understand and predict the future of the Arctic,” said first author Trevor Keenan, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area and an assistant professor in UC Berkeley’s department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management.

Keenan and Riley used the satellite data to build a new observational benchmark that quantifies the growing expanse of vegetated land in the northern hemisphere. They also estimated changes in the proportion of the Earth’s surface where plant growth will no longer be limited by cold temperatures over the 21st century. Keenan and Riley project that by the year 2100, only 20 percent of vegetated land in the northern hemisphere will still be limited by cold conditions that have been in place there for centuries; the remaining 80 percent will no longer experience sufficiently cold temperatures, and with earlier springs, plants will grow sooner, in unexpected places and to an unexpected degree.

“Although the greening might sound like good news as it means more carbon uptake and biomass production, it represents a major disruption to the delicate balance in cold ecosystems,” said Keenan. “Temperatures will warm sufficiently so that new species of trees could move in and compete with vegetation that had previously dominated the landscape. This change in vegetation would also affect insects and animals that relied on native vegetation for food.”

Scientists collaborating through the World Climate Research Programme developed the CMIP5 models to help researchers around the world gain a better understanding of the relationship between carbon emissions and global warming, among other goals. International consortiums such as the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) have also used CMIP5 projections to inform policy decisions. Keenan said that while the CMIP5 models provided researchers with a broad overview of the problem, they do not always accurately represent the important roles plants play in reflecting light back into the atmosphere, sending water back into the atmosphere, and absorbing carbon dioxide.

“No one has looked at high-latitude systems from this angle before as they are very complex, but they’re important as they control multiple feedbacks to the Earth system,” said co-author William Riley, a senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area.

Now that Keenan and Riley have established a standard approach for assessing climate models, they plan to explore how they can use more advanced statistical techniques, such as machine learning, to quantify how soil organic matter properties, atmospheric carbon dioxide, wildland fires, and temperature, will affect climate in the 21st century.

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The study was funded by DOE’s Office of Science. Additional funding was provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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59 thoughts on “Oh Noes! Ecosystems are getting greener in the Arctic

  1. How do such study differenciates between natural variation and global warming {if any}?

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    • No need to differentiate because we’ve been led to think that all warming is caused by Man made carbon pollution. We’re all gonna die.

    • I don’t believe the study was about climate change per se, but rather about what vegetation is showing up when. Attribution comes after the fact.

  2. the researchers used satellite images taken over the past 30 years to track – down to a pixel representing approximately 25 square miles –

    Their data analysis revealed that 16 percent of Earth’s vegetated land where plant growth was limited by cold temperatures three decades ago is no longer predominantly temperature-limited today,

    And satellite radar projection/reception has improved “how much” during the past 30 years?

    • And alarmists are Hell-bent on preventing the low-diversity, low-productivity Arctic from returning to its former glory of high-diversity, high biological productivity. There is a mindset that whatever the present is like is what is, by definition, best. Only humans make value judgements. The ecosystems adapt to whatever the conditions are, to maximize life within the constraints of temperature and precipitation. It is though alarmists actually think that they are wise enough to know what is best for Earth.

      • “Only humans make value judgements.” That’s a good point, but you might argue that all species do (what ecologists call strategies) for their own benefit. The human failing is confusing these with science. Value judgements have always been there determining what to research, but now too often get in the research to form a basis for advocacy, usually crisis related. I gathered no data but by examining lots of papers in marine science am confident of the shift in research in the last couple of decades or so. Celebrity and other driven types, as noted, telling the world the solutions. Lots of examples, this one not climate. Two errors, actually more involved,— consensus, and solution not clear, which recent papers still acknowledge.

        “Fortunately, …decrease(s)(of) excess nutrient loads proceeded without complete scientific consensus …”

  3. “Although the greening might sound like good news ….major disruption ….delicate balance …” I as a tax pay don’t mind paying for climate research but don’t feed me B.S.

    • “…This change in vegetation would also affect insects and animals that relied on native vegetation for food…”

      Shut-up and pay taxes and dial back your lifestyle to that which would humble a Monk sworn to poverty – there are insects that ~may~ be inconvenienced by a change of plant life.

      • Next to my sister’s house on the shore of the Eastern Arm of the Mackenzie River in Inuvik there arrived one year a Leopard Frog (the most northerly species), presumably by hitching a ride on a transport truck bringing logs north from Arctic Red. It survived the winter, amazingly enough. For three summers it croaked out its lonely longings for a mate at the foot of her garden. If frogs were dropped in hundreds into the lakes of the north, the miserable mosquito and black fly conditions would change considerably and the world would definitely be a better place. The problem now is the frogs are absent and the insects multiply uncontrollably, upsetting what was a far better balance, as one sees a few hundred kilometers south.

        Once there are frogs, the birds that eat them will do much better. Many small mammals will follow the food supply and the North will blossom into the diversity of a northern pine forest. Can’t wait.

        • I spent a summer on a prospect in the NWT, north of Yellowknife.
          Bugs, particularly the black flies!
          The reaction, was not contemplation as you have suggested, but very harsh language. Which had zero effect on the bug population.
          Retaliation against “Super-Bulldogs”, which were horseflies of some 3/4s of an inch long was to grab them without crushing them.
          Take a fine, dry grass straw and stuff it up the fly’s fundament, which was painful to the fly.
          But this is getting even.
          The trick was to have the straw at a little over an inch long.
          Let it go, and with just the right length it could only fly straight up.
          Until they were “out of sight”.
          Sigh,
          Bob Hoye

          • Heh, we did that in Idaho when I was out there for several weeks for geology field camp many years ago.

  4. “Although the greening might sound like good news…….” Then follows the usual claptrap based on the assumption that even the smallest change to an ecosystem has to be bad news.
    It IS good news you morons.

    • Back-casting the author’s reasoning, the transition from the last glacial to the Holocene with its dramatic increase in temperature must have been a bloodbath of environmental chaos, death and destruction!! In which case, please explain the subsequent rise of civilization?

  5. You mean green, like the green when Mammoths were flash frozen with plant leaves still in their stomachs some 12,000 years ago in Siberia?

    • Geologists still haven’t answered how they got flash frozen. I understand to preserve the contents of their stomachs the temperature had to have dropped over 150 deg F within hours! No one, not even people who believe in Noah’s Flood can come up with a mechanism. That is one of the cool things about uncensored science, there are always cool mysteries. I say uncensored science because the flash freezing of the mammoths is one of the mysteries that you aren’t supposed to know about, Science has all the Answers, don’t you know?

      • Digestion pretty much stops as soon as the animal dies. No more enzyme production, muscle movements that keep everything mixed up and moving. It all stops.
        As the body cools, the rate of chemical reactions in the body slow down rapidly.

    • No need, since they weren’t “flash-frozen”. Most are actually pretty well rotted. What happened is that very occasionally a dead mammoth (or other animal) got covered by a mudslide that later froze. In a permafrost area all the mud will freeze in time and with luck stay frozen for thousands of years.
      And a dead animal will usually have food remains in the stomach even if not flash frozen.

      I recommend finnish paleontologist Björn Kurténs essay “How to freeze a mammoth” if you want more details.

    • The true mystery is how only member of the herd got flash frozen while all the others just walked away.

    • Ewin Barnett so saidith:

      when Mammoths were flash frozen with plant leaves still in their stomachs some 12,000 years ago in Siberia?

      The other story was …… “Fresh Buttercups (flowers) in its mouth”.

      But the “facts” suggest, ……. blame the “freezing” cold of the Younger Dryas, to wit:

      At the time, woolly mammoths were very abundant on our planet. To illustrate this point, between 1750 and 1917, trade in mammoth ivory prospered over a wide geographical region, yielding an estimated 96,000 mammoth tusks. It is estimated that about 5 million mammoths lived in just a small portion of northern Siberia.

      [snip]

      The evidence above strongly suggests that the woolly mammoth was not a polar creature but a temperate one. Consequently, at the beginning of the Younger Dryas, 13,000 years ago, Siberia was not an arctic region but a temperate one.

      Read more @ https://www.sott.net/article/357709-Of-Flash-Frozen-Mammoths-and-Cosmic-Catastrophes

  6. Climate Alarmist always look at the negative aspects. They’re worried about some bugs and cold weather plants that may suffer from warming temperatures. But they make it sound like having new growth of other species is a negative and the new insects that may bring to those regions. This Climate Change to them is a bad thing and want everything to remain the same, while they do not believe in evolution that has occurred throughout the history of Earth.

  7. The Arctic was 2 degrees warmer than now, during the Holocene Maximum just 9,000 years ago. And the Siberian Taiga forest was up to 200 km further north than now. And at the same time, most of the Sahara was green and fertile.

    Sounds like a win-win to me. What is not to like?

    R

  8. Aw that’s epic news – whole new places to grow (more) coconut oil.
    There is hope – its looking good.

    What prompted: I *presently* do have sight (no sound) of a TV – showing Sky News and 2 consecutive stories just gone past are: Arctic ice melt and something to do with coconut oil.
    Proof that there *is* a God and whoever *is* trying to tell us something.

    Presently showing an overly made-up & bleached cougar with bottle of white wine at a table in the middle of the road in (I think) Brussels and a newspaper also on the table with headline = “No Deal”
    Too true lady, Seattle Sarah is enough for me
    😀
    and I don’t drink so scrap the vino

  9. These researchers need to consider what happened during the, quite recent in geological terms, Holocene Climate Optimum. The tree line was a lot farther north. It was as much as seven degrees warmer in the arctic than it is now. link We know what will happen if it gets warmer in the arctic because it happened before.

    The alarmists can easily ignore fossil forests that are tens of millions of years old. They should not be able to ignore the entirely natural climate that existed as recently as 5000 years ago.

  10. It’s not that long until the 2020 color band will be on us, and the projections of this study can be validated (or not).

  11. It’s unexpected…..CMIP5 didn’t model it

    …so they admit the models only do what they tell it to do

  12. With the Arctic warming, as if, I’d like to see which plants they are talking about that grows in – 30 C. That’s minus 30 C .
    Are they sure this is scientific based or political wishful thinking. I’ve looked at the temperatures in the Arctic, they look like they are running slightly below average.

    • I forgot that they used models!!!! That makes it a fact. Who can argue with a model in ‘ climate science ‘ ? They are so accurate that to predict the future is just do the opposite.

  13. This observation is a no-brainer once one realizes that it does not have to get warmer or significantly warmer to get the increased vegetation they observe. Higher CO2 makes plants more tolerant of both warmth and cold, such that plants in the UK now come up in the Spring two weeks earlier than 70-some years ago. However, the UK has not warmed, with CO2 enabling plants to grow and bloom at lower temperatures, thus more green.

    So, the increased atmospheric CO2 is allowing Arctic plants to grow where they could not before without the increased CO2. No global warming required, which is why the models fail once again.

    ““Although the greening might sound like good news as it means more carbon uptake and biomass production, it represents a major disruption to the delicate balance in cold ecosystems,” said Keenan.

    As they know so little about the Arctic ecosystems, to claim this is a major disruption, in light of it having been much warmer a number of times in the last 2000 years, is clear alarmism and propaganda.

    • I understand how CO2 makes plants more drought tolerant, but how does it make plants better able to handle heat and cold?

  14. More life results from increasing the base of the food chain –> that ‘surprised’ the researchers?

    More atmospheric CO2 feeds more life –> therefore we need to tax it?

  15. 1952- “The speed of growth of plants, in the Arctic is phenomenal. For example,- in Arctic Lapland, a farmer pointed across a field of knee-high grassand said: “Up here we get as many as three crops, whereas down south they are lucky if they get two.” In Northern Canada, way above the Arctic Circle, clover grows to a height of four feet by mid-July. Two crops are not uncommon. Potatoes average 100 bushels to the acre. In time the Arctic will supply food for populations of many millions.”

    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/197883792?searchTerm=Arctic%20glaciers%20receding%20more%20flowers%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=

  16. FLOWERS IN ARCTIC REGIONS.
    The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950) Thursday 29 May 1919

    RUSSIA “FARMING IN ARCTIC CIRCLE”
    Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954) Monday 14 February 1949

    Wheat in Arctic Swamps
    The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939) Thursday 25 March 1937 p

    World Achievement The Arctic Potato
    The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 – 1939) Wednesday 27 September 1939

    THE “TROPIC” ARCTIC.
    Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 – 1953) Thursday 11 December 1930

    1930- “Botanists travelling near the northern coast of Canada, not many hundred miles from the North Pole, have catalogued over 700 varieties of flowering plants, while forests of trees, more than 70 feet high and 14 inches through the butt, are to be found”

    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/72648212?searchTerm=farming%20in%20the%20arctic%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=

    ARCTIC REGION NOT BARREN
    Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954) Saturday 3 June 1933

    The Fertile Arctic
    Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 – 1954) Thursday 12 October 1933 p

    1907- “Millions of birds go to the Arctic regions to breed,” said an explorer. “They get there the finest rarest food that is to be found in the whole world.” The vegetation of tbe tnndra, or greatArctic swamp, consists of cranberries,cloudberries, and crowberries—hundreds of millions of bushes and hundreds of millions of fruit”

    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/196782094?searchTerm=growing%20crops%20in%20the%20%20arctic%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=

    (Love this one) Worth Knowing ANTS IN THE ARCTIC.
    Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1932) Thursday 14 May 1914

    and on and on and on…..

    • “But without observations showing exactly when and where vegetation has bloomed as the world’s coldest areas warm”

      There, took me a couple of mins to help them and I didn’t need a grant or blame anything on gorebull warming.

    • Once again, the only contribution Steve can make, is to lie about what others have been saying.

      It’s like he doesn’t even want to try anymore.

    • Mosher,

      It probably has less to do with what the average or high temperatures are, and more to do with the nighttime and Winter lows. That is, the frequency and timing of killing frosts. Whereas, UHI is definitely making cities hotter in the Summer.

      Why don’t you try to make positive contributions to science instead of trying to impress everyone with how clever you consider yourself to be?

    • @At Steve Mosher:

      Mosh, I presume that your sarcastic comment above was referring to my comment the other day where I talked about the UHI effect.
      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/08/20/it-looks-like-august-is-going-to-be-a-hot-month-because-climate-change/ (at 6:57 a.m.).

      Just want you to know that your sarcasm is NOT welcome or appreciated. I would like to think that scientists (assuming you are one) have enough character and integrity to avoid
      it and rise above that kind of behavior. Perhaps I am wrong about that when it comes to you.

      If indeed you are denying or ridiculing the notion that UHI may be tainting the surface temperature record, I would like you to know that even the EPA acknowledges the existence of it:

      https://www.epa.gov/heat-islands.

      Quote:
      “…The term “heat island” describes built up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas. The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F (12°C). Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality….”.

      Have a nice day Mosh.

    • Plant(s),
      … it’s not getting warmer. It’s all uhi.

      Mosher,
      Observed changes are more likely due to seasonal variations (see Spencer above), & CO2. Long term seasonal variations are, by definition, climate change.

      (the plant does not care about misinformation. reality governs, and like a true Stoic, it will just go on)

      (the mosher also does not care. misinformation is what pays the bills)

    • “…as the world’s coldest areas warm…”

      Show me the data. As I understand it, there are only about 4 full-time temperature monitoring stations north of the Arctic Circle? And only one has a record longer than 30 years? I’m going by memory here, somebody wanna fill me in on the actual numbers? So, how do they really know the greening is from warming? Are they just making that up, too?

  17. They sound desperate in the analysis to find a way to describe warming and vegetation growth as a problem, but let’s retrace a couple of steps:

    “…it’s difficult to predict how vegetation will respond to future warming…”

    Say what? How about asking a few Canadian farmers or farm extension officers from Agriculture Canada how vegetation responds to warming, if they are that clueless. If the ‘investigators” are unaware that there are farmers in Northern Canada, they should do more homework before speculating that the plant profile may change and eliminate the food supply of the few animals that manage to survive “up there”. The animals may appreciate a few additions to their larder.

    “There are about 270 vascular plant species, 325 mosses, around 100 liverworts and 550 to 600 lichens on the Arctic islands”.
    https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/arctic-archipelago/

    Hardly enough to support meandering herds which used to roam the islands when it was a lot warmer. There is probably a less in there somewhere.

    Further south on the tundra among the blueberries there are tiny, stunted trees in their billions that are waiting for the temperature to rise a little so they can expand into their former growing areas. The article is written as if this has never happened before in support of the idea that a (slightly) warmer Arctic is somehow unprecedented. This is not even fear-mongering, it is ignorance.

    The only thing of interest to me in the article is that they surveyed the areas where plant growth is accelerating because of temperature change and or CO2 fertilisation, shows that the latest climate models do not capture this.

    Why not? One of the most obvious things about the melting of a region of permafrost is that the plant growth accelerates, producing a forest as fast as limiting conditions permit.

    The idea that permafrost will melt and produce a huge amount of methane is just another meme born of ignorance, spread be those who never asked how that biomass came to be there in the first place.

    So far they discovered what and Northern Canadian farmer already knew: that when it is warmer plants do better, and something we all know: that the Models are inadequate.

    Yawn. I need more coffee. This is boring.

  18. I’m not sure why CMIP5 failing to model regional climatic effects would be news. To my knowledge, the only thing CMIP5 models semi-successfully model is global temperature anomaly trends (actual *temperatures* not so much), and that only if your expectations are low.

  19. “without observations showing exactly when and where vegetation has bloomed as the world’s coldest areas warm, it’s difficult to predict how vegetation will respond to future warming.”
    Since when have alarmists successfully predicted ANYTHING?

    But note that, once again, alarmists are COMPLAINING about increased life and growth. They are psychotic, evil.

    And is it temperatures that cause the growth? or is it the carbon dioxide itself, like everywhere else on Earth?

  20. I note that the satellite used, Fapar, does not cover above 75N or below 60S.

    Not much of the Arctic/Antarctic covered then?

  21. “it represents a major disruption to the delicate balance in cold ecosystems”

    Not as major as when those cold ecosystems gets covered by glacial ice, or when that ice melts again. Which has happened more than 100 times during the Pleistocene. And those delicate ecosystems apparently survived it.

  22. Take observations and compare them to model results and see that the models failed to make a prediction, then predict the future using the models that failed to accurately predict the past, climate science!

  23. Climate Change for a thousand. “How plants in cold regions respond to warming”. What is “favorably”, Alex?

  24. Lets not upset no “delicate balance”…especially not if it makes the planet greener, more productive, and well, you get the idea.

  25. For each degree of warming how many sq miles of land do we lose to a rising ocean? How many previously cold areas are habitable? My hunch is that if the earth warmed enough to melt Greenland and Antarctica we would be better off as a planet since we would be able to live in Greenland and Antarctica.

  26. Just look at the wording fraught with bias. They’re afraid that other species will infringe on the territory held now by marginal species. Cook’s website has a similar bias against life encroaching on deserts, and bush moving in to replace grasslands. Things NEVER stay the same. Change is inevitable and has always happened. And life taking over a dead landscape is always a good thing. It’s particularly troublesome that so many people have an ice fetish. “Oh, no! Another iceberg melted!”

    Global warming in an Ice Age can only be seen as a good thing. Ice kills; warmth promotes life, especially so close to the bottom of Earth’s livable temperature range.

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