Climate mitigation from vegetation biophysical feedbacks during the past three decades

Zhenzhong Zeng, Shilong Piao, Laurent Z.X. Li, Liming Zhou, Philippe Ciais, Tao Wang, Yue Li, Xu Lian, Eric F. Wood, Pierre Friedlingstein, Jiafu Mao, Lyndon D. Estes, Ranga B. Myneni, Shushi Peng, Xiaoying Shi, Sonia I. Seneviratne, Yingping Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

345 Scopus citations


The surface air temperature response to vegetation changes has been studied for the extreme case of land-cover change; yet, it has never been quantified for the slow but persistent increase in leaf area index (LAI) observed over the past 30 years (Earth greening). Here we isolate the fingerprint of increasing LAI on surface air temperature using a coupled land-atmosphere global climate model prescribed with satellite LAI observations. We find that the global greening has slowed down the rise in global land-surface air temperature by 0.09 ± 0.02 °C since 1982. This net cooling effect is the sum of cooling from increased evapotranspiration (70%), changed atmospheric circulation (44%), decreased shortwave transmissivity (21%), and warming from increased longwave air emissivity (â 29%) and decreased albedo (â 6%). The global cooling originated from the regions where LAI has increased, including boreal Eurasia, Europe, India, northwest Amazonia, and the Sahel. Increasing LAI did not, however, significantly change surface air temperature in eastern North America and East Asia, where the effects of large-scale atmospheric circulation changes mask local vegetation feedbacks. Overall, the sum of biophysical feedbacks related to the greening of the Earth mitigated 12% of global land-surface warming for the past 30 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-436
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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