The ongoing climate change can modulate the behavior of global vegetation and influence the terrestrial biosphere carbon sink. Past observation-based studies have mainly focused on the linear trend or interannual variability of the vegetation greenness, but could not explicitly deal with the effect of natural decadal variability due to the short length of observations. Here we put the variabilities revealed by remote sensing-based global leaf area index (LAI) from 1982 to 2015 into a long-term perspective with the help of ensemble Earth system model simulations of the historical period 1850-2014, with a focus on the low-frequency variability in the global LAI during the growing season. Robust decadal variability in the observed and modelled LAI was revealed across global terrestrial ecosystems, and it became stronger toward higher latitudes, accounting for over 50% of the total variability north of 40°N. The linkage of LAI decadal variability to major natural decadal climate modes, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation decadal variability (ENSO-d), the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), and the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO), was analyzed. ENSO-d affects LAI by altering precipitation over large parts of tropical land. The PDO exerts opposite impacts on LAI in the tropics and extra-tropics due to the compensation between the effects of temperature and growing season length. The AMO effects are mainly associated with anomalous precipitation in North America and Europe but are mixed with long-term climate change impacts due to the coincident phase shift of the AMO which also induces North Atlantic basin warming. Our results suggest that the natural decadal variability of LAI can be largely explained by these decadal climate modes (on average 20% of the variance, comparable to linear changes, and over 40% in some ecosystems) which also can be potentially important in inducing the greening of the Earth of the past decades.

Original languageEnglish
Article number014033
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Climate Research

Free keywords

  • decadal variability
  • Earth system model
  • leaf area index
  • remote sensing
  • terrestrial ecosystem


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