New Map Highlights Areas Most Vulnerable To Climate Change

Sense and vegetation sensitivity

Sometimes, you need to look at the whole picture, especially when it comes to the worldwide effects of climate change.

In a paper published today in Nature, researchers introduced the Vegetation Sensitivity Index, a metric for measuring how sensitive a particular ecosystem (especially its vegetation) is to climate change. The result is a map that shows which parts of the world will be most severely affected by our changing climate.

To create the map, the researchers used satellite data collected from 2000 to 2013 to look at plants on a global scale. They calculated the sensitivity index by looking at how the satellite-measured vegetation ground cover compared with three factors, air temperature, water availability, and degree of cloud cover, and how all four factors had changed over that time period. They did this for every 2-square-mile block on the Earth’s land surface. Some areas, like Antarctica or the Sahara desert, were classed as barren or ice-covered, but the rest of the land was graded from most to least sensitive to the effects of changes in climate over the past 14 years.

Then the researchers took the data and mapped it out. Areas in green on the map have a lower sensitivity, and adapted well to changes in climate. Areas in red are highly sensitive to changes in climate, and didn’t have an easy time of it, either due to a loss of water, rising temperatures, or more.

The researchers hope to continue to build on this work, using it to map out whether the vegetation changes seen on the current map are temporary, or part of a more widespread pattern over the years.