Previous studies have concluded that the increase in vegetation in the arid northwest of China is related to precipitation rather than temperature. However, these studies neglected the effects of climate warming on water availability that arise through changes in the melting characteristics of this snowy and glaciated region. Here, we characterized vegetation changes using the newly improved third-generation Global Inventory Modeling and Mapping Studies Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (GIMMS-3g NDVI) from 1982 to 2011. We analyzed the temperature and precipitation trends based on data from 51 meteorological stations across Northwest China and investigated changes in the glaciers using Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) data. Our results indicated an increasing trend in vegetation greenness in Northwest China, and this increasing trend was mostly associated with increasing winter precipitation and summer temperature. We found that the mean annual temperature increased at a rate of 0.04 °C per year over the past 30 years, which induced rapid glacial melting. The total water storage measured by GRACE decreased by up to 8 mm yr−1
and primarily corresponded to the disappearance of glaciers. Considering the absence of any observed increase in precipitation in the growing season, the vegetation growth may have benefited from the melting of glaciers in high-elevation mountains (i.e.
, the Tianshan Mountains). Multiple regression analysis showed that temperature was positively correlated with NDVI and that gravity was negatively correlated with NDVI; together, these variables explained 84% of the NDVI variation. Our findings suggest that both winter precipitation and warming-induced glacial melting increased water availability to the arid vegetation in this region, resulting in enhanced greenness.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited