An Australian-led analysis of satellite data has found the amount of carbon sequestered in plants has risen by almost four billion tonnes since 2003, reflecting a surge in the biomass of global flora — possibly the first such increase since the Industrial Revolution.

The researchers found that natural growth in northern Australia and southern Africa had more than compensated for mass deforestation in hot spots such as the Amazon, Borneo and Sumatra.

The upsurge, reported in the journal Nature Climate Change, was driven by higher rainfall in dry savanna areas.

Co-lead author Albert van Dijk, of the Australian National University said it was still unclear whether increased vegetation reflected a cyclic climate pattern.

The study analysed two decades of satellite data and took almost 10 years to complete.