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Climate Change: Map of Ecosystems Shows Areas Sensitive To Change

Feb 18, 2016 01:21 PM EST
Map of climate sensitivity in terms of plant growth, worldwide
A recent study developed a global map showing which areas are especially sensitive to climate variability, based on satellite data. On the map, red shows particular sensitivity, green is a lower level of sensitivity, and gray is either lacking in vegetation or covered in ice. Water bodies located inland are also in blue.
(Photo : University of Bergen)

Parts of the world's boreal forests, Arctic tundra, tropical rainforest, and alpine areas, along with the rest of our earthly kit-and-caboodle, have now been incorporated into a global map of areas that are most sensitive to climate variability, say researchers with a study recently published in the journal Nature.

"Based on the satellite data gathered, we can identify areas that, over the past 14 years, have shown high sensitivity to climate variability," researcher Alistair Seddon at Norway's University of Bergen (UiB) and first author of the study, said in a release.

Essentially, the scientists zeroed in on what they thought of as ways the climate drove productivity of plant life on a monthly basis. Doing this, they found areas of climate sensitivity in certain ecosystems worldwide.

"We have found ecologically sensitive regions with amplified responses to climate variability in the Arctic tundra, parts of the boreal forest belt, the tropical rainforest, alpine regions worldwide, steppe and prairie regions of central Asia and North and South America, forests in South America, and eastern areas of Australia," Seddon noted in the release.

They worked out a metric called the Vegetation Sensitivity Index (VSI). Using this, they can find a measurable response to challenges of climate and the level of reaction that ecosystems have to short-term changes, like one especially cold winter month, a cloudy late-summer month, a warmer June.

The research used satellite data from 2000 to 2013, selecting out which variables (temperature, cloudiness, water availability, etc.) essentially control plant productivity in any location. Then the variations in that area's productivity, also taken from satellite information, were compared with variability of the climate variables above.

Other sensitive areas were found in Central Asia, North and South America, the Caatinga (deciduous) forest in the eastern part of South America, as well as eastern sections of Australia.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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