A Once White Arctic Is Turning Green

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Craig Boudreau Vice Reporter
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“The greening trend was unmistakable,” concludes a group of NASA scientists who used cutting edge satellites to paint the most accurate picture yet of warming’s greening of the planet. They published their results in an April 2016 paper called “Remote Sensing Environment.”

Using Landsat data, where an amazing number of satellite based pictures are put together to get a larger picture of trends relating to the greening, researchers have found that the Arctic, as well as boreal North America, have shown a marked greening, and temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than anywhere else.

Of the more than 4 million square miles covering the Arctic and boreal areas, a staggering 30% has shown an increase in vegetation, while only 3% has shown a decrease, or ‘browning’ as they call it.

Known as a CO2 ‘sink’, the Arctic has been a place where atmospheric CO2 gets trapped in sea ice, but as sea ice melts that CO2 is reintroduced into the atmosphere. ”We’ve known for a long time that Earth’s oceans are able to absorb enormous volumes of CO2, but we also thought this only applied to areas of ocean not covered by ice, because sea ice was considered to be impenetrable. This is not correct, however, since new research shows that the sea ice in the Arctic regions takes large quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere and into the sea,” Dorte Haubjerg Søgaard told

What’s more, as permafrost recedes it thaws out once frozen microbes that start to digest organic carbon which then leads to another greenhouse gas being emitted, methane, furthering the warming and therefore greening.

With the warming trend globally, we are already seeing evergreen shrubs and trees moving farther north, which will speed the warming process up. As trees and shrubs replace areas once covered in grassy tundras the trees produce a higher amount of water vapor, which leads to more warming as water vapor is also a greenhouse gas.

According to Richard Pearsons, a research scientist for the American Museum of Natural History: “The more greening you get, the more warming you expect.”

Some people argue that a warming planet bringing more trees is a welcome development, but they forget about the water vapor produced by those trees and their role in adding to greenhouse gases. Also, since we know trees actually add their own aerosols to the atmosphere, it stands to reason that a greener world would necessarily mean a warmer world.

As the Arctic trends away from a CO2 sink to a CO2 source, the problem of CO2 emissions is only going to be accelerated.

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