Afforestation has been implemented worldwide as regional and national policies to address environmental problems and to improve ecosystem services. China's central government launched the “Grain for Green” Program (GGP) in 1999 to increase forest cover and to control soil erosion by converting agricultural lands on steep slopes to forests and grasslands. Here a variety of satellite data products from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer were used to assess the biophysical consequences of the GGP for the Loess Plateau, the pilot region of the program. The average tree cover of the plateau substantially increased because of the GGP, with a relative increase of 41.0%. The GGP led to significant increases in enhanced vegetation index (EVI), leaf area index, and the fraction of photosynthetically active radiation absorbed by canopies. The increase in forest productivity as approximated by EVI was not driven by elevated air temperature, changing precipitation, or rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Moreover, the afforestation significantly reduced surface albedo, leading to a positive radiative forcing and a warming effect on the climate. The GGP also led to a significant decline in daytime land surface temperature and exerted a cooling effect on the climate. The GGP therefore has significant biophysical consequences by altering carbon cycling, hydrologic processes, and surface energy exchange and has significant feedbacks to the regional climate. The net radiative forcing on the climate depends on the offsetting of the negative forcing from carbon sequestration and higher evapotranspiration and the positive forcing from lower albedo.


Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences


American Geophysical Union (AGU)

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



©2014. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


This is an article published by AGU in Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences in 2014, available online: