The greening of the North: real, and caused by climate change

Some years ago Ranga Myneni and his colleagues at Boston University published a paper in Nature apparently showing a "greening trend" in the boreal regions. The finding was based on satellite observations, and many scientists were sceptical about it because of problems of instrumental "drift" that could possibly make any observed long-term trend unreliable. The Boston team, however, persisted in their efforts to re-analyze the data, taking into account all possible anomalies. The trend would not go away, and it has become clearer with time as new data have come in.

A possible cause was always obvious: weather station records from the North have reported a steady warming (by about 0.4 degree per decade), which is now generally attributed to the increasing greenhouse effect. Warming in the North might be expected to produce "greening". However, it was not trivial to connect the weather station data to the satellite data to find out whether there was a quantitative correlation between the two trends. Although computer-based numerical models of the physical climate have been used for three decades to analyze the possible consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, comparable global models of ecosystem dynamics are a much more recent development.

Now, a major activity of the Global Ecology research group at MPI-BGC, under the leadership of Prof. Colin Prentice, is the ongoing development of a leading global terrestrial ecosystem model. The model is called LPJ, after the three research groups (led by Prof. Colin Prentice at MPI-BGC, Prof. Wolfgang Cramer at PIK; and Prof. Martin Sykes at Lund University) that participate in the model development consortium. The basic idea of the model is to integrate current knowledge in separate fields (plant physiology and biophysics, terrestrial ecology and hydrology), to simulate the interaction of processes with different time constants (minutes to years), and to use all possible sources of information

Contact: I.Colin Prentice

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