The North Atlantic Oscillation and European vegetation dynamics

Gouveia C., Trigo R.M., DaCamara C.C., Libonati R., Pereira J.M.C.
International Journal of Climatology, DOI: 10.1002/joc.1682

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The relationship between vegetation greenness and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is assessed over Europe. The study covers the 21-year period from 1982 to 2002 and is based on monthly composites of the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Brightness Temperature from the Global Inventory Monitoring and Modelling System (GIMMS) as well as on monthly precipitation from the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC).
A systematic analysis is first performed of point correlation fields over the 21-year period between the winter NAO index and spring and summer NDVI, followed by an assessment of the vegetation response to precipitation and temperature conditions in winter, over two contrasting regions, namely the Iberian Peninsula and Northeastern Europe. Finally, the impact of NAO on vegetation dynamics over the two regions is evaluated by studying the corresponding annual cycles of NDVI and comparing their behaviour for years associated with opposite NAO phases.
Over the Iberian Peninsula there is strong evidence that positive (negative) values of winter NAO induce low (high) vegetation activity in the following spring and summer seasons. This feature is mainly associated with the impact of NAO on winter precipitation, together with the strong dependence of spring and summer NDVI on water availability during the previous winter. Northeastern Europe shows a different behaviour, with positive (negative) values of winter NAO inducing high (low) values of NDVI in spring, but low (high) values of NDVI in summer. This behaviour mainly results from the strong impact of NAO on winter temperature, associated with the critical dependence of vegetation growth on the combined effect of warm conditions and water availability during the winter season.