Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1753

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April 17, 1997

Lynn Chandler Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD (Phone: 301/286-9016) RELEASE: 97-71 PLANT GROWTH IN NORTHERN LATITUDES INCREASED BY TEN PERCENT DURING 1980s Plant growth in Earth's northern regions increased by ten percent from 1981 to 1991, and by the end of this period annual growth began about eight days earlier, according to new NASAfunded research published in today's issue of the scientific journal "Nature." These findings imply that vegetation in Earth's northern high latitudes (between 45-70 degrees North) is actively responding to previously reported measurements of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and warmer-than-average surface temperatures in the north during the past three decades. "Our results demonstrate that Earth's biosphere -- its plants, animals and life -- is not a passive participant in our planet's environment," said Dr. Ranga Myneni of Boston University, a co-author of the study. "The warming during springtime is particularly significant because of the related decline in snow cover. As a result, spring greening is happening significantly earlier." While the global effects of such greening may be small, "regionally, they could be highly significant for interests such as agriculture and land-use planning," said co-author Dr. Ghassem Asrar of NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "In addition, our initial analysis of data from 1992 - 1994 indicates that the trends are continuing." The published research was conducted by scientists from Boston University, Boston, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center,

Greenbelt, MD; NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC; and the University of Montana in Missoula, using data from Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instruments aboard the NOAA-7, NOAA-9 and NOAA-11 satellites. The Sahara Desert in Africa was used as a common reference point to adjust the measurements across the different sensors. Vegetation in the latitudes north of 45 degrees covers about 13.6 million square miles (35.3 million square kilometers), or approximately 35 percent of global vegetation during August, the greenest month of the year. In general, the greatest increases in vegetation took place inland from oceans. Bands of increased growth were measured from Spain in a northeasterly direction across central Europe and southern Russia, and in North America from Alaska in a southeasterly direction to the U.S. Great Lakes and northeast again to Labrador in Canada. Outside of this band, little change was seen in the continental United States. Living plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the process known as photosynthesis. "Any predictions of future concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide must now include the response of global vegetation," said Myneni. "While plant growth tends to cool the immediate surroundings, we do not yet know what this finding means in terms of climate change." "These findings add support to the emerging idea that regional changes in Earth's land, air and oceans are likely more extreme than those considered in an exclusively global context," Asrar added. The full scientific paper and related color graphics are available on the Internet at the following URL: http://www.forestry.umt.edu/ntsg/nature/ The research is funded by NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth, a long-term, internationally coordinated research effort to study the Earth as a global environmental system. -end-