Climate variability, vegetation productivity and people at risk

Cristina Milesi, Hirofumi Hashimoto, Steven W. Running, Ramakrishna R. Nemani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Human domination of ecosystems has been pervasive over the last century, with nearly half of Earth's surface transformed by human actions. It is widely accepted that humans appropriate up to 50% of global net primary production (NPP), the energy base of all the trophic levels on the land surface. Yet, despite the important role of vegetation productivity for defining Earth habitability, the covariation of NPP and human population distribution has not been analyzed in depth. We used recently available satellite-based NPP estimates, along with gridded population at 0.5°resolution, first, to identify the global distribution of human population with reference to average NPP and to the various climatic constraints (temperature, water and cloud cover) that limit NPP, second, to analyze recent trends in global NPP in relation to population trends, and third, to identify populations that are vulnerable to changes in NPP due to interannual variability in climate. Our results indicate that over half of the global human population is presently living in areas with above the average NPP of 490 g C m-2 year-1. By 1998, nearly 56% of global population lived in regions where water availability strongly influences NPP. Per capita NPP declined over much of Africa between 1982 and 1998, in spite of the estimated increases in NPP over the same period. On average, NPP over 40% of the total vegetated land surface has shown significant correlations with ENSO-induced climate variability affecting over 2.8 billion people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-231
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number2-4 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • ENSO
  • Human population
  • Productivity
  • Remote sensing
  • Vegetation


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