As temperatures warm, the Arctic is becoming greener

Arctic summers are becoming warmer, and the result is a greener Arctic landscape. NASA has been using satellites to track global tundra ecosystems for decades. A new study found that the Arctic region is becoming greener as warmer air and soil temperatures lead to increased plant growth. The Arctic is one of the coldest biomes on Earth, and NASA says it's one of the most rapidly warming as well.

Researcher Logan Berner says that the Arctic Greening that is occurring is a bellwether of global climatic change calling it a biome-scale response to rising air temperatures. The study he and his team have published is the first to measure vegetation changes spanning the entire Arctic tundra from Alaska and Canada to Siberia using satellite data from Landsat.

Researchers point out that greening can represent plants growing more and becoming denser and/or shrubs encroaching on typical tundra grasses and moss. As the tundra changes, it impacts wildlife in the area that depends on certain plants and the people who live in the region and depend on the ecosystem for food. Plants do absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, but warming temperatures could thaw permafrost releasing greenhouse gases.

The research was completed as part of the NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment to understand better how ecosystems respond in warming environments and the broader social implications. Berner and other researchers on the project used Landsat data and additional calculations to determine the peak greenness for a given year for each of 50,000 randomly selected sites across the tundra.

Between 1995 and 2016, about 38 percent of the tundra sites across Alaska, Canada, and western Eurasia show greening. Only three percent showed the opposite browning effect, meaning fewer actively growing plants. When viewing Eastern Eurasian sites, researchers compared data starting in 2000 when the satellites begin collecting images regularly and found 22 percent of site screened between 2020 and 2016 compared to four percent that browned.