Beautiful Yet Unnerving Photos of the Arctic Getting Greener

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Using tricked-out drones, scientists are watching vegetation boom in the far north. Their findings could have big implications for the whole planet. (From 2020)

getting greener, and it’s about as pretty as you might expect—vast stretches of coastal land positively glowing against cobalt seas. But all that green is in fact an alarm: Vegetation is growing more abundant as this region warms twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Northern landscapes are undergoing massive change, with potential consequences not just for the Arctic itself, but the world as a whole.

from the team. “And when you spread that out over a huge area, it can have very consequential impacts on the carbon cycle.”Photograph: Jeff Kerby/National Geographic SocietyPhotograph: Jakob Assmannof the carbon stored in the soils of the world is in the Arctic permafrost—essentially frozen dirt. Growing in that soil are mostly grasses and shrubs, none of which grow above knee height.

To make the Arctic carbon cycle even more complicated, all that vegetation of course sequesters carbon: Plants suck in COand spit out oxygen. “So one of the big questions is, will this greening signal, these increases in plants, offset the losses of carbon from the systems as permafrost thaws?” says Isla Myers-Smith, an ecologist at the University of Edinburgh, who supervises the research and coauthored the paper.

This data is much richer and more reliable than just pointing a regular old camera at a plant and determining how green it is, given that lighting can change dramatically out in the field. By looking at the ratio between the red and near-infrared light, the team can more accurately show how plant productivity may be changing as the Arctic warms.


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