Thanks to ambitious tree planting and re-vegetation programs in India and China, our planet is becoming greener by the year. A study by NASA, based on extensive satellite imagery and published in the journal Nature Sustainability, has revealed that the two countries with the world’s biggest populations are also responsible for the largest increase in green foliage.
Taken all together, the greening of the planet over the last two decades represents an increase in leaf area on plants and trees equivalent to the area covered by all the Amazon rainforests. There are now more than two million square miles of extra green leaf area per year, compared to the early 2000s – which amounts to a 5% increase.
Between 2000 and 2017, a NASA sensor known as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) gathered high-resolution data of the Earth’s surface from aboard two satellites, the Terra and the Aqua. Using the MODIS data, researchers discovered that China is the source of a quarter of the increase in green leaf area, despite possessing only 6.6% of the world’s vegetated area. Forests account for 42% of that increase, while croplands make up a further 32%.
China’s increase in forest area is the result of forest conservation and expansion programs, NASA said, established to combat the impacts of climate change, air pollution and soil erosion. India has contributed a further 6.8% rise in green leaf area, with 82% from croplands and 4.4% from forests. In 2017 alone, India broke its own world record for the most trees planted after volunteers gathered to plant 66 million saplings in just 12 hours.
The researchers point out that the gain in greenness seen around the world, which is dominated by India and China, does not offset the damage from loss of natural vegetation in tropical regions, such as Brazil and Indonesia. The consequences for sustainability and biodiversity in those ecosystems remain, but overall, we can see a positive message in the new findings.