New reports conducted by Vienna University of Technology suggest that early spring weather leads to less plant growth. This is contrary to previous knowledge that earlier warm weather results in "more carbon being absorbed from the atmosphere for photosynthesis and more biomass production."
"We already knew that climate change had shifted the timing of plant growth," says Matthias Forkel from the Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation at TU Wien.
Using satellite data, researchers investigated whether the length of seasons impacted plant growth and the amount of CO2 used during photosynthesis.
"We analysed satellite images from the past 30 years, examining the entire globe to the north of the 30th parallel north, from southern Europe and Japan to the most northerly tundra regions," continues Matthias Forkel.
"This means that we can determine how much photosynthesis is occurring and how much carbon is taken up during photosynthesis across the globe on a point-by-point basis."
It was previously thought that when warmer weather occurs earlier after winter, plants would have more time to grow as well as absorbing more carbon. Although data showed that the northern hemisphere was greener in spring with warmer temperatures, during summer, there was reduction in the carbon consumption due to the rise in temperature.
Scientists suggest this might be down to drier surrounding soil leading to a greater demand for water. Insufficient water available may lead to less growth.
"These mechanisms are complicated and vary on a regional basis," explains Matthias Forkel.
"However, our data clearly shows that average plant productivity decreases during years that experience a warm spring."
"Unfortunately, this changes climate forecasts for the worse," adds Forkel.
"We have to assume that the consequences of global warming will be even more dramatic than previously calculated."
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