Permafrost is extremely sensitive to climate change. The degradation of permafrost has strong and profound effects on vegetation. The permafrost zone of northeastern China is the second largest region of permafrost in China and lies on the south edge of the Eurasian cryolithozone. This study analyzed the spatiotemporal variations of the growing-season Normalization Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in the permafrost zone of northeastern China and analyzed the correlation between NDVI and ground surface temperatures (GST) during the years 1981–2014. Mean growing-season NDVI (MGS-NDVI) experienced a marked increase of 0.003 year−1
across the entire permafrost zone. The spatial dynamics of vegetation cover had a high degree of heterogeneity on a per pixel scale. The MGS-NDVI value increased significantly (5% significance level) in 80.57%, and this increase was mostly distributed in permafrost zone except for the western steppe region. Only 7.72% experienced a significant decrease in NDVI, mainly in the cultivated and steppe portions. In addition, MGS-NDVI increased significantly with increasing growing-season mean ground surface temperature (GS-MGST). Our results suggest that a warming of GS-MGST (permafrost degradation) in the permafrost region of northeastern China played a positive role in increasing plant growth and activities. Although increasing ground surface temperature resulted in increased vegetation cover and growth in the short time of permafrost degradation, from the long term point of view, permafrost degradation or disappearance may weaken or even hinder vegetation activities.
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