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Keywords:

  • NDVI;
  • climate;
  • greening;
  • temperature;
  • statistical techniques

[1] This paper analyzes the relation between satellite-based measures of vegetation greenness and climate by land cover type at a regional scale (2° × 2° grid boxes) between 1982 and 1999. We use the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) from the Global Inventory Monitoring and Modeling Studies (GIMMS) data set to quantify climate-induced changes in terrestrial vegetation. Climatic conditions are represented with monthly data for land surface air temperature and precipitation. The relation between NDVI and the climate variables is represented using a quadratic specification, which is consistent with the notion of a physiological optimum. The effects of spatial heterogeneity and unobserved variables are estimated with specifications and statistical techniques that allow coefficients to vary among grid boxes. Using this methodology, we are able to estimate statistically meaningful relations between NDVI and climate during spring, summer, and autumn for forests between 40°N and 70°N in North America and Eurasia. Of the variables examined, changes in temperature account for the largest fraction of the change in NDVI between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. Changes in stratospheric aerosol optical depth and precipitation have a smaller effect, while artifacts associated with variations in solar zenith angle are negligible. These results indicate that temperature changes between the early 1980s and the late 1990s are responsible for much of the observed increase in satellite measures of northern forest greenness.