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Satellites reveal contrasting responses of regional climate to the widespread greening of Earth

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Science  25 May 2017:
eaal1727
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal1727

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Abstract

Changes in vegetation cover associated to the observed greening may affect several biophysical processes, whose net effects on climate are unclear. Here, we analyze remotely sensed dynamics in leaf area index (LAI) and energy fluxes to explore the associated variation in local climate. We show that the increasing trend in LAI contributed to the warming of boreal zones through a reduction of surface albedo, and to an evaporation-driven cooling in arid regions. The interplay between LAI and surface biophysics is amplified up to five times under extreme warm-dry and cold-wet years. Altogether, these signals reveal that the recent dynamics in global vegetation have had relevant biophysical impacts on the local climates and should be considered in the design of local mitigation and adaptation plans.

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