Changement climatique - Recherche française (avec laboratoires CNRS) - 2010-2015


Widespread decline of Congo rainforest greenness in the past decade

Publication Year


  • Zhou, Liming
  • Tian, Yuhong
  • Myneni, Ranga B.
  • Ciais, Philippe
  • Saatchi, Sassan
  • Liu, Yi Y.
  • Piao, Shilong
  • Chen, Haishan
  • Vermote, Eric F.
  • Song, Conghe
  • Hwang, Taehee
NATURE Volume: 509 Issue: 7498 Pages: 86-+ Published: 2014
0028-0836 eISSN: 1476-4687

Tropical forests are global epicentres of biodiversity and important modulators of climate change(1), and are mainly constrained by rainfall patterns(1-3). The severe short-term droughts that occurred recently in Amazonia have drawn attention to the vulnerability of tropical forests to climatic disturbances(4-9). The central African rainforests, the second-largest on Earth, have experienced a long-term drying trend(10,11) whose impacts on vegetation dynamics remain mostly unknown because in situ observations are very limited. The Congolese forest, with its drier conditions and higher percentage of semi-evergreen trees(12,13), may be more tolerant to short-term rainfall reduction than are wetter tropical forests(11), but for a long-term drought there may be critical thresholds of water availability below which higher-biomass, closed-canopy forests transition to more open, lower-biomass forests(1,2,14). Here we present observational evidence for a widespread decline in forest greenness over the past decade based on analyses of satellite data (optical, thermal, microwave and gravity) from several independent sensors over the Congo basin. This decline in vegetation greenness, particularly in the northern Congolese forest, is generally consistent with decreases in rainfall, terrestrial water storage, water content in aboveground woody and leaf biomass, and the canopy backscatter anomaly caused by changes in structure and moisture in upper forest layers. It is also consistent with increases in photosynthetically active radiation and land surface temperature. These multiple lines of evidence indicate that this large-scale vegetation browning, or loss of photosynthetic capacity, may be partially attributable to the long-term drying trend. Our results suggest that a continued gradual decline of photosynthetic capacity and moisture content driven by the persistent drying trend could alter the composition and structure of the Congolese forest to favour the spread of drought-tolerant species(1,2,14).

KeyWord(s) Plus
ESI Discipline(s)
  • Multidisciplinary
Web of Science Category(ies)
  • Multidisciplinary Sciences

[Zhou, Liming] SUNY Albany, Dept Atmospher & Environm Sci, Albany, NY 12222 USA; [Tian, Yuhong] NOAA, IMSG, NESDIS, Ctr Satellite Applicat & Res,STAR, College Pk, MD 20740 USA; [Myneni, Ranga B.] Boston Univ, Dept Earth & Environm, Boston, MA 02215 USA; [Ciais, Philippe] UVSQ, CEA, CNRS, LSCE, F-91191 Gif Sur Yvette, France; [Saatchi, Sassan] CALTECH, Jet Prop Lab, Pasadena, CA 91109 USA; [Liu, Yi Y.] Univ New S Wales, ARC Ctr Excellence Climate Syst Sci, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; [Liu, Yi Y.] Univ New S Wales, Climate Change Res Ctr, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; [Piao, Shilong] Peking Univ, Dept Ecol, Coll Urban & Environm Sci, Beijing 100871, Peoples R China; [Chen, Haishan] Nanjing Univ Informat Sci & Technol, Minist Educ, Key Lab Meteorol Disaster, Nanjing 210044, Jiangsu, Peoples R China; [Vermote, Eric F.] NASA, Goddard Space Flight Ctr, Greenbelt, MD 20771 USA; [Song, Conghe] Univ N Carolina, Dept Geog, Chapel Hill, NC 29599 USA; [Song, Conghe] Anhui Agr Univ, Sch Forestry & Landscape Architecture, Hefei 230036, Anhui, Peoples R China; [Hwang, Taehee] Univ N Carolina, Inst Environm, Chapel Hill, NC 29599 USA

Reprint Adress

Zhou, LM (reprint author), SUNY Albany, Dept Atmospher & Environm Sci, Albany, NY 12222 USA.

  • Australia
  • France
  • People's Republic of China
  • United States
CNRS - Adress(es)
  • Laboratoire des sciences du climat et de l'environnement (LSCE), UMR8212
Accession Number
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