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Asymmetric effects of daytime and night-time warming on Northern Hemisphere vegetation



Temperature data over the past five decades show faster warming of the global land surface during the night than during the day1. This asymmetric warming is expected to affect carbon assimilation and consumption in plants, because photosynthesis in most plants occurs during daytime and is more sensitive to the maximum daily temperature, Tmax, whereas plant respiration occurs throughout the day2 and is therefore influenced by both Tmax and the minimum daily temperature, Tmin. Most studies of the response of terrestrial ecosystems to climate warming, however, ignore this asymmetric forcing effect on vegetation growth and carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes3,4,5,6. Here we analyse the interannual covariations of the satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI, an indicator of vegetation greenness) with Tmax and Tmin over the Northern Hemisphere. After removing the correlation between Tmax and Tmin, we find that the partial correlation between Tmax and NDVI is positive in most wet and cool ecosystems over boreal regions, but negative in dry temperate regions. In contrast, the partial correlation between Tmin and NDVI is negative in boreal regions, and exhibits a more complex behaviour in dry temperate regions. We detect similar patterns in terrestrial net CO2 exchange maps obtained from a global atmospheric inversion model. Additional analysis of the long-term atmospheric CO2 concentration record of the station Point Barrow in Alaska suggests that the peak-to-peak amplitude of CO2 increased by 23 ± 11% for a +1 °C anomaly in Tmax from May to September over lands north of 51° N, but decreased by 28 ± 14% for a +1 °C anomaly in Tmin. These lines of evidence suggest that asymmetric diurnal warming, a process that is currently not taken into account in many global carbon cycle models, leads to a divergent response of Northern Hemisphere vegetation growth and carbon sequestration to rising temperatures.

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Figure 1: The response of growing-season (from April to October) NDVI to changes in growing-season maximum temperature (Tmax) and minimum temperature (Tmin) in the Northern Hemisphere.
Figure 2: Tmax and Tmin sensitivity of annual AMP at Point Barrow and Mauna Loa stations.
Figure 3: Tmax and Tmin sensitivity of a global atmospheric inversion model estimated NCE in boreal and temperate regions.
Figure 4: The response of growing-season (April–October) SWC to changes in growing-season Tmax and Tmin in the Northern Hemisphere.


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This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 41125004 and 31021001), the National Basic Research Program of China (grant numbers 2010CB950601 and 2013CB956303), the Foundation for Sino-EU Research Cooperation of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (grant number 1003), and a Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection Grant (number 201209031). We also acknowledge the GLOBALVIEW-CO2 project based at NOAA ESRL. S.V. is a postdoctoral research associate of the Fund for Scientific Research (Flanders).

Author information




S. Piao, S. Peng and H.Z. designed the research. S. Peng performed analysis and calculations. S. Piao, P.C., A.C. and S. Peng drafted the paper. R.B.M. provided the remotely sensed NDVI data and contributed to the text. F.C. provided the atmospheric inverse model estimated carbon flux and contributed to the text. A.J.D. provided the remotely sensed soil moisture data and contributed to the text. I.A.J., J.P., G.Z., S.V., S. Wan, S. Wang and H.Z. contributed to the interpretation of the results and to the text.

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Correspondence to Shilong Piao or Hui Zeng.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Peng, S., Piao, S., Ciais, P. et al. Asymmetric effects of daytime and night-time warming on Northern Hemisphere vegetation. Nature 501, 88–92 (2013).

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