We examined trends in the averaged May–September AVHRR normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) from 1982 to 1999 for the northern hemisphere. NDVI is closely related to the amount of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation; hence, trends in NDVI reflect trends in photosynthetic activity of land-surface vegetation. Linear and nonlinear trend analysis techniques were applied to four differently processed and corrected Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) NDVI data sets. The results were compared in order to evaluate the effects of trends in NDVI unrelated to vegetation activity. We consistently found significant positive trends in averaged NDVI for latitude bands above 35°N in all but one data set; this one data set lacked corrections for sensor drift and instrument calibration. An impressive improvement in data quality was achieved by applying calibration and corrections for atmospheric effects.
Conservative estimates of the trends over the 1982–99 period range from 0.0015 to 0.0045 NDVI units year−1 for global latitude bands from 35 to 75°N, with trends generally higher in the 1990s than in the 1980s; trends in NDVI were larger than trends explained by artefacts. In the 1980s, North American and Eurasian trends were roughly comparable, whereas in the 1990s the North American trends were generally higher. A pixel-level analysis shows the trends to be widespread, with large areas of Canada, Europe and northern Asia experiencing significant positive increases across all vegetated landcovers.