When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves - David Orr


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From space, Earth appears as a blue marble. But some researchers have been studying the planet through a different-colored lens: green.

They have tried to determine which regions are particularly susceptible to some variations in climate, and which are more resilient. And after studying 14 years’ worth of NASA satellite images and tracking changes in the color of vegetation, they have developed what they’re calling the Vegetation Sensitivity Index .

A new study, published and reviewed in Nature magazine, shows the changes in shades of green (a proxy for plant health) in response to certain environmental factors — in this case, temperature, water availability and cloud cover.

Dr. Alistair Seddon, the study’s lead researcher, said that by seeing which ecosystems are experiencing the most change at the plant level, scientists will be able to make better predictions about how ecosystems will respond to future variations in climate. Those insights will help them understand the relative risks of certain climate changes to agriculture, among other issues.

The data show that some of the most sensitive areas are those already experiencing changes, including the Arctic tundra, parts of the boreal forest and tropical rain forests.

But some steppe and prairie regions, eastern areas of Australia and the Caatinga forest in eastern South America are also among the most susceptible ecosystems, the researchers found.

Alpine regions are also highly sensitive to changes in temperature, and grassland regions are most sensitive to variations in water availability, the study found.

“The key thing the data shows,” Dr. Seddon said, “is that we’re learning the underlying mechanisms behind these changes.”

However, he added that the researchers still don’t know why these ecosystems are more sensitive than others, or what the sensitivity of any particular plant species might be.

Source: Tatiana Schlossberg, Measuring the Planet’s Health in Vibrant Shades of Green, Trilobites, The New York Times, February 16, 2018.

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Last Updated : Wednesday, March 6, 2019