NASA Discovers Earth Is ‘Greener Now Than 20 Years Ago’

by : Charlie Cocksedge on : 01 Mar 2019 17:47
vegetation map/forestNASA/National Park Service

Thanks to intensive tree planting programs in China and India, the world is now apparently greener than it was 20 years ago, according to a new study.

China and India are the top two most populated countries in the world, and are two of the top three most polluting nations too. The ‘ambitious tree planting programs’ are an effort to counteract this.


Research by scientists from NASA discovered that, thanks mostly to the programs in these countries, there are more than two million square miles of extra greenery in the world compared to the early 2000s.


While it may sound like good news, and is definitely not something to be sniffed at, according to researchers the increase is still not enough to offset the damage to the planet caused by deforestation, MailOnline reports.

The research was led by Chi Chen, from Boston University, who said China and India ‘account for one-third of the greening, but contain only nine per cent of the planet’s land area covered in vegetation’.


NASA’s MODIS tool, located on their Terra satellite which orbits the Earth and provides high-resolution images of the planet’s surface, first detected the increasing greenery in the mid-1990s, and has since been monitoring the changes in our ecosystem, carbon cycle and climate.

map of vegetation in asiaNASA

Around 25 per cent of the increase in foliage is from China, despite it only having 6.6 per cent of the world’s foliage overall, while roughly seven per cent of the increase is thanks to India.

In total, 42 per cent of the world’s greenery comes from forests, and 32 per cent comes from farmland.


Scientists are now factoring these findings into their prediction models for future climate change.

map of vegetation on earthNASA

Rama Nemani, from NASA’s Ames Research Centre, and co-author of the study, said:

This long-term data lets us dig deeper. When the greening of the Earth was first observed, we thought it was due to a warmer, wetter climate and fertilisation from the added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to more leaf growth in northern forests, for instance.

Now, with the MODIS data that lets us understand the phenomenon at really small scales, we see that humans are also contributing.


The results of the study were published in Nature which, the researchers say, highlight the need for a ‘realistic representation of human land-use practices in Earth system models’ when looking at the Earth’s vegetation.

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Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist and sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.

Topics: Science


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