Caption: A snapshot of Earth's plant productivity in 2003 shows regions of increased productivity (green) and decreased productivity (red).  Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Satellite Data Show Plant Growth is Declining on Earth

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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One idea about climate change suggested that higher temperatures would boost plant growth and food production. That may have been a trend for awhile, where plant growth flourished with a longer growing season, but the latest analysis of satellite data shows that rising global temperatures has reached a tipping point where instead of being beneficial, higher temperatures are causing drought, which is now decreasing plant growth on a planetary scale. This could impact food security, biofuels, and the global carbon cycle. “This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth,” said Steven Running from the University of Montana.

During the 1980s and 1990s global terrestrial plant productivity increased as much as six percent. Scientists say that happened because during that time, temperature, solar radiation and water availability — influenced by climate change — were favorable for growth.

During the past ten years, the decline in global plant growth is slight – just one percent. But it may signify a trend.

Interannual shifts in plant productivity (green line) fluctuated in step with shifts in atmospheric carbon dioxide (red line) between 2000 through 2009. Credit: Maosheng Zhao and Steven Running

“These results are extraordinarily significant because they show that the global net effect of climatic warming on the productivity of terrestrial vegetation need not be positive — as was documented for the 1980’s and 1990’s,” said Diane Wickland, of NASA Headquarters and manager of NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology research program.

A 2003 paper in Science led by then University of Montana scientist Ramakrishna Nemani (now at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.) showed that land plant productivity was on the rise.
Running and co-author Maosheng Zhao originally set out to update Nemani’s analysis, expecing to see similar results as global average temperatures have continued to climb. Instead, they found that the impact of regional drought overwhelmed the positive influence of a longer growing season, driving down global plant productivity between 2000 and 2009.

The discovery comes from an analysis of plant productivity data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, combined with growing season climate variables including temperature, solar radiation and water. The plant and climate data are factored into an algorithm that describes constraints on plant growth at different geographical locations.

For example, growth is generally limited in high latitudes by temperature and in deserts by water. But regional limitations can vary in their degree of impact on growth throughout the growing season.

Zhao and Running’s analysis showed that since 2000, high-latitude northern hemisphere ecosystems have continued to benefit from warmer temperatures and a longer growing season. But that effect was offset by warming-associated drought that limited growth in the southern hemisphere, resulting in a net global loss of land productivity.

“This past decade’s net decline in terrestrial productivity illustrates that a complex interplay between temperature, rainfall, cloudiness, and carbon dioxide, probably in combination with other factors such as nutrients and land management, will determine future patterns and trends in productivity,” Wickland said.
The researchers plan on maintaining a record of the trends into the future. For one reason, plants act as a carbon dioxide “sink,” and shifting plant productivity is linked to shifting levels of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Also, stresses on plant growth could challenge food production.

“The potential that future warming would cause additional declines does not bode well for the ability of the biosphere to support multiple societal demands for agricultural production, fiber needs, and increasingly, biofuel production,” Zhao said.

“Even if the declining trend of the past decade does not continue, managing forests and croplands for multiple benefits to include food production, biofuel harvest, and carbon storage may become exceedingly challenging in light of the possible impacts of such decadal-scale changes,” Wickland said.

The team published their findings Aug. 20 in Science.

Source: NASA

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darthwader
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darthwader
August 19, 2010 12:39 PM

Ironic that the map is Christmas colors.

Aqua4U
Member
August 19, 2010 1:00 PM
A neighbor up the street and I recently spent several hours hauling firewood to his house for splitting (4 cords of dead/dying Tan Oak – caused by ‘Sudden Oak Death Syndrome’ , which has become rampant here in No. Calif. – UGH!). We had a lot of time to chat while driving back forth to pick up the wood. I mentioned your recent article about that giant glacier calving off the ice flow in Greenland and mentioned Global Warming. Opps… mistake! The neighbor, a ‘biker-type’ who has fallen on his head several times, not so patiently explained to me that “YOU can’t say that global warming is caused by man! This isn’t the first time the climate has… Read more »
DD
Member
DD
August 19, 2010 1:06 PM

Might some of the change on the map be produced by differences in agriculture activities? For example, the plant decrease in southern Brazil may reflect clearing of extensive rain forests, whereas increased plant growth in the southeastern US reflects a change from small farming, which involves plowing, to more grassland and timber.

Trippy
Member
Trippy
August 19, 2010 3:06 PM
@AQUA About your neighbour. For most christians the “Mankind has every right to use up all the resources on the Earth, cuz “It’s in the Bible” attitude stems from the words of Genesis 1:26, which states, among other things: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” However, next time you talk to him, remind him what Genesis 2:15 has to say on the matter: “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into… Read more »
William928
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William928
August 19, 2010 3:21 PM

I find it interesting that much of Sub Saharan Africa shows significant plant life productivity, while most of the US, except the Southeast, shows decreased productivity, including the once robustly forested Pacific Northwest. The doubters can spew all the nonsense they like, but the evidence is beginning to overwhelm their arguments.

TerryG
Member
August 19, 2010 4:54 PM

Hello Aqua,
I’m no Ned Flanders but you could suggest your friend looks into how much his bible talks up respecting the environment and abhors waste (a form of the sin of gluttony)…
Leviticus 25:23-24 “…provide for the redemption of the land”.
Isaiah 24:4-6 “…a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt”.
Jeremiah 2:7 “…you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable”.
Failing that, it’s possible (though somewhat impolite) to spring a trap and remind him of the books combustible properties for when the fire wood runs out. Thus whence the logically challenged doth speaketh forth, lest thou shalt findith an abundance of entertainment value.

Dark Gnat
Member
Dark Gnat
August 20, 2010 5:02 AM
Whether you believe in God or not, we do need to own up to our responsibility and take care of this planet. The passages referenced are good ones. However, *never* make fun of someone’s religion when trying to make a point. If you offend them, then they may shut you out altogether. Remember, education is the goal. I believe that the Earth is warming partly naturally, but our greenhouse gas emissions and widspread deforestation are contributing and escalating the warming trend. I’m not sure if this study is taking into account the deforestation thats going on around the globe, especially in the tropics, but I belive that is a major cause of GW. if there are less trees… Read more »
dwdeclare
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dwdeclare
August 20, 2010 5:37 AM

reading this story brought to mind a quote from jim morrison, i believe it went something to the effect,”i’m gonna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames”

Spoodle58
Member
August 20, 2010 7:16 AM

I agree with Dark Gnat in saying Whether you believe in God or not, we do need to own up to our responsibility and take care of this planet.

Whatever anyone’s beliefs are and whatever anyone’s standpoint is on GW, AGW and climate change in general, everyone should treat there environment with respect.

neoguru
Member
neoguru
August 20, 2010 7:39 AM

OK which izzit? On the one hand we’re told that global warming is causing a wetter climate and we should anticipate floods and storms. Now we’re informed that draughts will be forthcoming. As a chemist, it’s hard for me to accept that changes in a few parts per million CO2 can possibly affect world climate. This flip-flopping and poor science makes human global warming a farce, a conclusion I drew long ago. I’m no Christian. The Earth’s been warming for the last 12,000 years. As a scientist, I dispise the human global warming movement because of their myopic vision, poor data, and downright awful science.

Olaf
Member
Olaf
August 20, 2010 8:36 AM

neoguru as a scientist you should know that the term GLOBAL means global and not local.

Some countries will have wetter climate some countries will have draughts. Many countries will have more draughts followed by more floods and storms.

Between 1960=315 ppmv, 2010=385ppmv, if my calculation is correct over 50 years the ppmv count increased with 18%

As a chemist do you really claim that adding 18% more a tiny amount chemical in a solution will have no effect to your complete solution?

Yes 310 ppmv seems small but if it has no effect then why the hell would you even put the solution in it? Just leave it out.

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
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IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
August 20, 2010 9:32 AM

@NEOGURU,

I suggest that you read this.

ProfMOZ
Member
ProfMOZ
August 20, 2010 10:12 AM

it is interesting to see people acting like the ostrich… the universe, and we are part of itwink only exists because of a balance of all forces.

If you are a believer read the bible (Genesis), if not use common sense and apply logic.

Our planet is a micro-cosmos of which we are the part disturbing this very delicate balance. Have you ever heard of the Chaos Theory? Every minute detail ultimately influences the whole. As a species we have only occupied a small portion of time on this blue marble and I am absolutely sure nature will do just fine without us.

As Albert Einstein said: The difference between Intelligence and Stupidity is, that intelligence has its limits…

sjbauer
Member
sjbauer
August 20, 2010 1:00 PM
Not difficult to predict gloabl warming when the planet is at the end of the interglacial period. Based on the recorded pattern of glacial-interglacial climate periods, there is an expectation that the naturally occuring global warming should reached approximately +12C temperature difference (increase) from the end of the last glacial cycle. In fact in the last few centuries we have briefly exceeded this +12C difference, but then the global temperature took a +2C dip. We are currently hovering around +10.65C difference as of June, 2010. Since we have yet to exceed this glacial-interglacial benchmark of +12C difference, then how can this be attributed to anything but naturally occuring climate change events ? How can AGW take credit for… Read more »
AndyInv
Member
AndyInv
August 20, 2010 2:30 PM

…and “a trend for awhile” should be a while. ‘Awhile’ means ‘for a time’, so the article reads “a trend for for a time”

Dictionary: Awhile, an adverb, is never preceded by a preposition such as for…

Aqua4U
Member
August 20, 2010 5:36 PM
Ahemm…. as I mentioned in the post above, MUCH of Northern California is experiencing a MAJOR tree die off! Granted these trees are mostly related to the Oak and sub species thereof – Tan Oak, Live Oak, Coast Oak etc… we’re still talking about BILLIONS of trees which is NO trifling sum and has become a MAJOR fire danger to many parts of the state! Whole mountains of dead or dying trees are just primed to burn with a simple spark – a lightning strike to set off a conflagration? Whatever the cause of this phenomena… it doesn’t look good and represents a MAJOR change in California’s forests! http://www.forestpathology.org/dis_sod.html http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/cropprot/sod.htm THEN, take a look at the dying forests… Read more »
Spoodle58
Member
August 21, 2010 2:08 AM

For a moment let us put aside whose theory bests fits the data etc.
I should be able to say everyone agrees its hotter now than 15,000 years ago.

Is there any way that we can use this to our benefit?
I know in some ways we already are and already have, but all we seem to do about this is moan and groan and debate who is right and who is wrong.

Is there something more positive we can do?, besides reminding ourselves to respect the environment as constantly telling people this fact may lead them to rebel against respecting the environment.

Aqua4U
Member
August 21, 2010 2:34 PM
@ Spoodle58 “…put aside the data…” Umm.. that’s obviously what’s been and is being done. The economic engines that exist on our tiny planet are the driving force behind MOST of the continuing environmental degradation – that and overpopulation. It appears that only when the forces of negative economic margins occur do the ‘greedy’ attempt any change. Sadly, this may become our only hope? Addendum – concerning greed. Those who are motivated by this factor are generally speaking, not concerned about the future. They are too busy accumulating personal wealth which they view as ‘power’. Short term profit is their mantra. Live for today the motto. This appears to be a function of ego which removes concern for… Read more »
Aqua4U
Member
August 21, 2010 2:42 PM

That is… without becoming their slaves… physically or economically.

clament
Member
clament
August 21, 2010 8:47 PM

This is a global issue that need to take serious consideration and into an action, we all know the importance of green plants in Earth, I’m proud of my country (Malaysia) still overall has a large green area in this map.

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