Peak season plant activity shift towards spring is reflected by increasing carbon uptake by extratropical ecosystems
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Climate change is lengthening the growing season of the Northern Hemisphere extratropical terrestrial ecosystems, but little is known regarding the timing and dynamics of the peak season of plant activity. Here, we use 34-year satellite normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) observations and atmospheric CO2 concentration and δ13 C isotope measurements at Point Barrow (Alaska, USA, 71°N) to study the dynamics of the peak of season (POS) of plant activity. Averaged across extratropical (>23°N) non-evergreen-dominated pixels, NDVI data show that the POS has advanced by 1.2 ± 0.6 days per decade in response to the spring-ward shifts of the start (1.0 ± 0.8 days per decade) and end (1.5 ± 1.0 days per decade) of peak activity, and the earlier onset of the start of growing season (1.4 ± 0.8 days per decade), while POS maximum NDVI value increased by 7.8 ± 1.8% for 1982-2015. Similarly, the peak day of carbon uptake, based on calculations from atmospheric CO2 concentration and δ13 C data, is advancing by 2.5 ± 2.6 and 4.3 ± 2.9 days per decade, respectively. POS maximum NDVI value shows strong negative relationships (p < .01) with the earlier onset of the start of growing season and POS days. Given that the maximum solar irradiance and day length occur before the average POS day, the earlier occurrence of peak plant activity results in increased plant productivity. Both the advancing POS day and increasing POS vegetation greenness are consistent with the shifting peak productivity towards spring and the increasing annual maximum values of gross and net ecosystem productivity simulated by coupled Earth system models. Our results further indicate that the decline in autumn NDVI is contributing the most to the overall browning of the northern high latitudes (>50°N) since 2011. The spring-ward shift of peak season plant activity is expected to disrupt the synchrony of biotic interaction and exert strong biophysical feedbacks on climate by modifying the surface albedo and energy budget.
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