In a greening Arctic, Iceland stands out as an area with very high increases in the AVHRR Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, 1982–2010). We investigated the possible sources of this anomalous greening in Iceland’s dynamic landscape, analyzing changes due to volcanism and warming temperatures, and the effects of agricultural and industrial land use changes. The analysis showed the increases were likely due to reductions in grazing in erosion-prone rangelands, extensive reclamation and afforestation efforts, as well as a response to warming climate, including glacial retreat. Like Scandinavia and much of the rest of the Arctic, Iceland has shown a recent reduction in NDVI since 2002, but still above pre-2000 levels. Theil-Sen robust regression analysis of MODIS NDVI trends from 2002 to 2013 showed Iceland had a slightly negative NDVI trend of 0.003 NDVI units/year (p
< 0.05), with significant decreases in an area three times greater (29,809 km2
) than that with increases (9419 km2
). Specific areas with large decreases in NDVI during the last decade were due to the formation of a large reservoir as a part of a hydroelectric power project (Kárahnjúkar, 2002–2009), and due to ashfall from two volcanic eruptions (Eyjafjallajökull, 2010; Grímsvötn, 2011). Increases in NDVI in the last decade were found in erosion control areas, around retreating glaciers, and in other areas of plant colonization following natural disturbance. Our analysis demonstrates the effectiveness of MODIS NDVI for identifying the causes of changes in land cover, and confirms the reduction in NDVI in the last decade using both the AVHRR and MODIS satellite data.
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