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The greening and browning of Alaska based on 1982–2003 satellite data


David Verbyla, Department of Forest Sciences, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA. E-mail:


Aim  To examine the trends of 1982–2003 satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) values at several spatial scales within tundra and boreal forest areas of Alaska.

Location  Arctic and subarctic Alaska.

Methods  Annual maximum NDVI data from the twice monthly Global Inventory Modelling and Mapping Studies (GIMMS) NDVI 1982–2003 data set with 64-km2 pixels were extracted from a spatial hierarchy including three large regions: ecoregion polygons within regions, ecozone polygons within boreal ecoregions and 100-km climate station buffers. The 1982–2003 trends of mean annual maximum NDVI values within each area, and within individual pixels, were computed using simple linear regression. The relationship between NDVI and temperature and precipitation was investigated within climate station buffers.

Results   At the largest spatial scale of polar, boreal and maritime regions, the strongest trend was a negative trend in NDVI within the boreal region. At a finer scale of ecoregion polygons, there was a strong positive NDVI trend in cold arctic tundra areas, and a strong negative trend in interior boreal forest areas. Within boreal ecozone polygons, the weakest negative trends were from areas with a maritime climate or colder mountainous ecozones, while the strongest negative trends were from warmer basin ecozones. The trends from climate station buffers were similar to ecoregion trends, with no significant trends from Bering tundra buffers, significant increasing trends among arctic tundra buffers and significant decreasing trends among interior boreal forest buffers. The interannual variability of NDVI among the arctic tundra buffers was related to the previous summer warmth index. The spatial pattern of increasing tundra NDVI at the pixel level was related to the west-to-east spatial pattern in changing climate across arctic Alaska. There was no significant relationship between interannual NDVI and precipitation or temperature among the boreal forest buffers. The decreasing NDVI trend in interior boreal forests may be due to several factors including increased insect/disease infestations, reduced photosynthesis and a change in root/leaf carbon allocation in response to warmer and drier growing season climate.

Main conclusions  There was a contrast in trends of 1982–2003 annual maximum NDVI, with cold arctic tundra significantly increasing in NDVI and relatively warm and dry interior boreal forest areas consistently decreasing in NDVI. The annual maximum NDVI from arctic tundra areas was strongly related to a summer warmth index, while there were no significant relationships in boreal areas between annual maximum NDVI and precipitation or temperature. Annual maximum NDVI was not related to spring NDVI in either arctic tundra or boreal buffers.