Thanks to new research published Wednesday in the journal Nature, now we know where the Earth is most sensitive to climate swings. Global satellites have identified areas with vegetation most susceptible to fluctuations to climate and the findings are very interesting.
Global warming’s most recent effect is the minimal slowing down of the sea level rise. However, the increase in planet Earth’s overall temperture may pose different effects on different parts of the world. In this new study, a team of scientists developed a map that reveals which regions on Earth are more sensitive to climate variability.
Most climate scientists know that planet Earth’s temperatures are continuously warming. They also know that some parts of the world may be more sensitive to temperature changes than others. What has been lacking is a way to identify how sensitive an ecosystem is and how to apply an indicator of sensitivity of the various parts of the planet for comparison.
That being said, researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway developed a metric to measure the climatic sensitivity of various ecosystems. Nicknamed the Vegetation Sensitivity Index, the map reveals how much a region on the planet will be affected by warming temperatures.
The research team used satellite data collected from 2000 to 2013 to look at plants at a global scale. They identified climate drivers of vegetation productivity on monthly timescales and computed the sensitivity index.
Moreover, the 14-year worth of satellite data measured the key climate variables of air temperature, water availability and cloud cover. The index then compares these variables with the productivity of vegetation under changing climate on a global scale.
According to the the new map, the researchers found that the alpine regions worldwide, tropical rainforests, parts of the boreal forest belt and areas in the Arctic tundra are ecologically sensitive regions with heightened responses to climate change. Other parts of the world include prairie and steppe parts of North and South America and Central Asia as well as South American and east Australian forests.
Now we have this global picture, it can guide the next areas of research.
stated Dr. Alistair Seddon, the lead author of the new study.
As the research focused solely on how plants responded to changes in climate, Seddon told HuffPost that more research is needed to explore how such sensitivity might impact human populations.
The Washington Post reported that Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, an ecologist at George Mason University in Virginia who was not involved in the study, called the new study ‘an important advance’.
Lovejoy also stressed the research is also an underestimate of sensitivity. Since biological interactions show major ecosystem impacts can occur on top of and as part of vegetation or ecosystem impacts. So climate change should be limited to only 1.5 degrees.
All in all, the new method will reveal valuable data that can be used in assessing ecosystems and anticipating how specific parts of the world will be affected by either short- or long-term climate changes. However, predicting when and where such transitions will occur remains a challenge for the scientists.