Greening of the Earth and its drivers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Global environmental change is rapidly altering the dynamics of terrestrial vegetation, with consequences for the functioning of the Earth system and provision of ecosystem services. Yet how global vegetation is responding to the changing environment is not well established. Here we use three long-term satellite leaf area index (LAI) records and ten global ecosystem models to investigate four key drivers of LAI trends during 1982-2009. We show a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated LAI (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing LAI (browning). Factorial simulations with multiple global ecosystem models suggest that CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend, followed by nitrogen deposition (9%), climate change (8%) and land cover change (LCC) (4%). CO2 fertilization effects explain most of the greening trends in the tropics, whereas climate change resulted in greening of the high latitudes and the Tibetan Plateau. LCC contributed most to the regional greening observed in southeast China and the eastern United States. The regional effects of unexplained factors suggest that the next generation of ecosystem models will need to explore the impacts of forest demography, differences in regional management intensities for cropland and pastures, and other emerging productivity constraints such as phosphorus availability.


  • Zaichun Zhu
  • Shilong Piao
  • Ranga B. Myneni
  • Mengtian Huang
  • Zhenzhong Zeng
  • Josep G. Canadell
  • Philippe Ciais
  • Stephen Sitch
  • Pierre Friedlingstein
  • Almut Arneth
  • Chunxiang Cao
  • Lei Cheng
  • Etsushi Kato
  • Charles Koven
  • Yue Li
  • Xu Lian
  • Yongwen Liu
  • Ronggao Liu
  • Jiafu Mao
  • Yaozhong Pan
  • Shushi Peng
  • Josep Peuelas
  • Benjamin Poulter
  • Benjamin D. Stocker
  • Nicolas Viovy
  • Xuhui Wang
  • Yingping Wang
  • Zhiqiang Xiao
  • Hui Yang
  • Sönke Zaehle
  • Ning Zeng
External organisations
  • CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Science
  • Peking University
  • Boston University
  • CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Canberra
  • Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University
  • Geography College of Life and Environmental Sciences
  • University of Exeter
  • Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
  • University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • CSIRO Land & Water Flagship
  • Institute of Applied Energy (IAE)
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Beijing Normal University
  • CSIC Spanish National Research Council
  • Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry (CERAF)
  • Montana State University
  • University of Birmingham
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Bern
  • Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
  • University of Maryland
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Environmental Sciences
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791-795
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Aug 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes