The green lungs of our planet are changing

March 6, 2015, Goethe University Frankfurt

Are leaves and buds developing earlier in the spring? And do leaves stay on the trees longer in autumn? Do steppe ecosystems remaining green longer and are the savannas becoming drier and drier? In fact, over recent decades, the growing seasons have changed everywhere around the world. This was determined by a doctoral candidate at the Goethe University as part of an international collaboration based on satellite data. The results are expected to have consequences for agriculture, interactions between species, the functioning of ecosystems, and the exchange of carbon dioxide and energy between the land surface and the atmosphere.

"There is almost no part of the Earth that is not affected by these changes", explains Robert Buitenwerf, at the Institute for Physical Geography at the Goethe University. He has evaluated from 1981 to 2012 with regard to 21 parameters on vegetation activity, in order to determine the point in time, the duration, and the intensity of growth from the northernmost conifer forests to tropical rain forests. His conclusion: On 54 percent of the , at least one parameter of vegetation activity has moved away from the mean value by more than two standard deviations.

As reported by researchers from Frankfurt, Freiburg and New Zealand in the current edition of the professional journal Nature Climate Change, leaves are now sprouting earlier in most of the climate zones of the far north. Although they are also dropped somewhat earlier in autumn, the overall vegetation period has grown longer. On the other hand, in our latitudes, trees and shrubs are losing their leaves later than they have up to now.

To date, not much research has been conducted on the regions of the . In those areas, the researchers found that in several savannas of South America, southern Africa and Australia, the vegetation activity has decreased during dry seasons. "Although these savannas have similar vegetation and comparable climates, the changes in vegetation activity differ. That may be attributable to the differences in the functioning of the respective ecosystems", says Buitenwerf.

In this respect, the seasonal distribution of leaf growth constitutes a sensitive indicator: it indicates how various react to changes in the environment. "Although vegetation changes in the have conclusively been attributed to climate change by other studies, attributing all the changes found in our study would require a more complex analysis," Buitenwerf emphasizes. In the northern hemisphere it has already been shown that species whose life cycles depend on the vegetation period are endangered by these severe changes. Consequences for species in the southern hemisphere are as yet unclear.

Explore further: Severe changes in world's leaf growth patterns over past several decades revealed

Related Stories

Crops help to drive greater seasonal change in CO2 cycle

November 19, 2014

Each year in the Northern Hemisphere, levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) drop in the summer as plants inhale, and then climb again as they exhale and decompose after their growing season. Over the past 50 years, the ...

Recommended for you

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 06, 2015
We have such little smog now that "smog levels" no longer even measure smog; they measure conditions that "could" lead to being able to measure any smog. That's why "Alerts", "Advisories", "Watches" and "Be Kind to Air Days" are only predictions that smog "could be" measured within the next 36 hours. And if that happens its called a; "Smog Warning" or real smog. Now for a decade and a half we have had no real detectable or more accurately; "meaningful" smog levels at all.
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 06, 2015
Hhhhmmm. Earlier Springs and Autumn starting later. Sounds a recipe to "sequester" CO2 in biomass. And Anthropogenic Global Warming will kill us all ? The extra heat is ALL geothermal. Look at USGS data for earthquakes Richter 6 and above at least since 1975 and have steadily increased, with the exception of the "pause" between 1990 and 2000. This entire conversation about Global Warming has been dominated by one (1) discipline --- weathermen ( aka climatologists). Forecasting out 50 to 100 years, no less.
4 / 5 (4) Mar 06, 2015
No, it's not climate change. It is the actions of Ancient Aliens.

I got it from Fox and the "History" Channel.
not rated yet Mar 07, 2015
Yes, I think I saw that too. It was giant ancient aliens who ate beans and let off massive farts of dark matter methane which is just now reaching the stratosphere depleting the ozone layer and causing that nasty smell on airplanes you thought was the fat lady in the seat up front wearing a bottle of cheap perfume.
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 07, 2015
LOL Elsewhere I read of an "environmental scientist" (them's scare-quotes) able to detect a microgram grain of NaCl in an Olympic Swimming Pool of 2.5 x 10^9 grams of water. Perhaps if the entire volume was analyzed, but NOT from a mere aliquot.

Heya, DH-

I, for one(and I suppose others) would be interested in reading that article you mention. Will you provide us a link, please?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.