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Temperature and vegetation seasonality diminishment over northern lands

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Abstract

Global temperature is increasing, especially over northern lands (>50° N), owing to positive feedbacks1. As this increase is most pronounced in winter, temperature seasonality (ST)—conventionally defined as the difference between summer and winter temperatures—is diminishing over time2, a phenomenon that is analogous to its equatorward decline at an annual scale. The initiation, termination and performance of vegetation photosynthetic activity are tied to threshold temperatures3. Trends in the timing of these thresholds and cumulative temperatures above them may alter vegetation productivity, or modify vegetation seasonality (SV), over time. The relationship between ST and SV is critically examined here with newly improved ground and satellite data sets. The observed diminishment of ST and SV is equivalent to 4° and 7° (5° and 6°) latitudinal shift equatorward during the past 30 years in the Arctic (boreal) region. Analysis of simulations from 17 state-of-the-art climate models4 indicates an additional STdiminishment equivalent to a 20° equatorward shift could occur this century. How SV will change in response to such large projected ST declines and the impact this will have on ecosystem services5 are not well understood. Hence the need for continued monitoring6 of northern lands as their seasonal temperature profiles evolve to resemble thosefurther south.

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Figure 1: Latitudinal and temporal variation of temperature and vegetation seasonality (ST and SV).
Figure 2: Spatial patterns of changes in vegetation photosynthetic activity.
Figure 3: Relationship between temperature and vegetation seasonality (ST and SV).
Figure 4: Historical and projected seasonality declines.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by the NASA Earth Science Division. We thank CRU, NSIDC, NASA MODIS Project, CAVM team and the CMIP5 climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table S7) for making their data available. The authors thank U. S. Bhatt, H. E. Epstein, G. R. North, M. K. Raynolds, A. R. Stine, G. Schmidt and D. A. Walker for their comments on various parts of this article.

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The analysis was performed by X.L., R.B.M, Z.Z and J.B. All authors contributed with ideas, writing and discussions.

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Correspondence to L. Xu or R. B. Myneni.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Xu, L., Myneni, R., Chapin III, F. et al. Temperature and vegetation seasonality diminishment over northern lands. Nature Clim Change 3, 581–586 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1836

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