Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Increased plant growth in the northern high latitudes from 1981 to 1991


Variations in the amplitude and timing of the seasonal cycle of atmospheric CO2 have shown an association with surface air temperature consistent with the hypothesis that warmer temperatures have promoted increases in plant growth during summer1 and/or plant respiration during winter2 in the northern high latitudes. Here we present evidence from satellite data that the photosynthetic activity of terrestrial vegetation increased from 1981 to 1991 in a manner that is suggestive of an increase in plant growth associated with a lengthening of the active growing season. The regions exhibiting the greatest increase lie between 45°N and 70°N, where marked warming has occurred in the spring time3 due to an early disappearance of snow4. The satellite data are concordant with an increase in the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of atmospheric carbon dioxide exceeding 20% since the early 1970s, and an advance of up to seven days in the timing of the drawdown of CO2 in spring and early summer1. Thus, both the satellite data and the CO2 record indicate that the global carbon cycle has responded to interannual fluctuations in surface air temperature which, although small at the global scale, are regionally highly significant.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Keeling, C. D., Chin, J. F. S. & Whorf, T. P. Increased activity of northern vegetation inferred from atmospheric CO2 measurements. Nature 382, 146–149 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Chapin, F. S., Zimov, S. A., Shaver, G. R. & Hobbie, S. E. CO2 fluctuation at high latitudes. Nature 383, 585–586 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Chapman, W. L. & Walsh, J. E. Recent variations of sea ice and air temperatures in high latitudes. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 74, 33–47 (1993).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Groisman, P. Ya, Karl, T. R. & Knight, T. W. Observed impact of snow cover on the heat balance and the rise of continental spring temperatures. Science 263, 198–200 (1994).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Tucker, C. J. in Advances in the Use of NOAA AVHRR Data for Land Applications (ed. D'Souza, D.) 1–19 (European Economic Union Press, Brussells, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  6. James, M. E. & Kalluri, S. N. V. The Pathfinder AVHRR land data set: an improved coarse-resolution data set for terrestrial monitoring. Int. J. Remote Sens. 15, 3347–3364 (1994).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Tucker, C. J., Fung, I. Y., Keeling, C. D. & Gammon, R. H. Relationship between atmospheric CO2 variations and a satellite-derived vegetation index. Nature 319, 195–199 (1986).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Asrar, G., Fuchs, M., Kanemasu, E. T. & Hatfield, J. L. Estimating absorbed photosynthetic radiation and leaf area index from spectral reflectance in wheat. Agron. J. 76, 300–306 (1984).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Myneni, R. B., Hall, F. G., Sellers, P. J. & Marshak, A. L. the interpretation of spectral vegetation indexes. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. 33, 481–486 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Tucker, C. J., Newcomb, W. W. & Dregne, A. E. AVHRR data sets for determination of desert spatial extent. Int. J. Remote Sens. 15, 3547–3566 (1994).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Rao, C. R. N. & Chen, J. Inter-satellite calibration linkages for the visible and near-infrared channels of the advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer on the NOAA-7, -9, and -11 spacecraft. Int. J. Remote Sens. 16, 1931–1942 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Los, S. O. Calibration adjustment of the NOAA AVHR Normalized Difference Vegetation Index without recourse to component channel 1 and 2 data. Int. J. Remote Sens. 14, 1907–1917 (1993).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. Holben, B. N. Characteristics of maximum value composite images for temporal AVHRR data. Int. J. Remote Sens. 7, 1417–1437 (1986).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Myneni, R. B., Tucker, C. J., Asrar, G., Keeling, C. D. & Nemani, R. R. Increased vegetation greenness amplitude and growing season duration in northern high latitudes inferred from satellite-sensed vegetation index data from 1981-91. NASA Tech. Memo. 104638 (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Myneni, R. B., Los, S. & Tucker, C. J. Satellite-based identification of linked vegetation index and sea surface temperature anomaly areas from 1982–1990 for Africa, Australia and South America. Geophys. Res. Lett. 23, 729–732 (1996).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Keeling, C. D., Whorf, T. P., Wahlen, M. & van der Plicht, J. Interannual extremes in the rate of rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1980. Nature 375, 666–670 (1995).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Heimann, M., Keeling, C. D. & Tucker, C. J. in Aspects of Climate Variability in the Pacific and Western Americas (ed. Peterson, D. H.) 277–303 (Geophys. Monog. Ser., Am. Geophys. Union, Washington DC, 1989).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Kauppi, P. E., Mielikainen, K. & Kuusela, K. Biomass and carbon budget of European forests from 1971–1990. Science 256, 70–74 (1992).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Jacoby, G. C., D'Arrigo, R. D. & Davaajamts, T. Mongolian tree rings and 20th-century warming. Science 273, 771–773 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Houghton, J. T. et al. (eds) Climate Change 1995 1–365 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995).

  21. Jones, P. D., Wigley, T. M. L. & Briffa, K. R. in Trends ’93: A Compendium of Data on Global Change (eds Boden, T. A., Kaiser, D. P., Sepanski, R. J. & Stoss, F. W.) (ORNL/CDIAC-65, Oak Ridge, TN, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Piper, S. C. & Stewart, E. F. A gridded global data set of daily temperature and precipitation for terrestrial biosphere modelling. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 10, 757–782 (1996).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Myneni, R., Keeling, C., Tucker, C. et al. Increased plant growth in the northern high latitudes from 1981 to 1991. Nature 386, 698–702 (1997).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing