A Multi-scale Assessment of Cumulative Impacts in the Northern Mackenzie Basin
Principal Investigator: Lantz, Trevor C. (20)
Licence Number: 15123
Organization: University of Victoria
Licenced Year(s): 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Issued: Jul 10, 2012
Project Team: Claire Marchildon (Project Researcher, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada), Dr. Robert Fraser (Project Researcher, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing), Richard Binder (Community Liason, Inuvialuit Joint Secretariat), Dr. Yu Zhang (Project Researcher, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing), Dr. Sergey Samsonov (Project Researcher, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing), Emily Cameron (Field Coordinator, University of Victoria), Harneet Gill (MSc Student, University of Victoria), Audrey Steedman (MSc Student, University of Victoria)

Objective(s): To use satellite imagery (Landsat, QuickBird, InSAR, etc.) to document the rate and extent of landscape change (slumps, subsidence, vegetation change, etc.) in the northern Mackenzie Basin; to examine the causes and effects of tundra disturbances using detailed field investigations; and to build local capacity for monitoring vegetation and permafrost in the region by implementing a community-based monitoring protocol.

Project Description: This project has three main objectives:

Objective 1: To use satellite imagery (Landsat, QuickBird, InSAR, etc.) to document the rate and extent of landscape change (slumps, subsidence, vegetation change, etc.) in the northern Mackenzie Basin.

To quantify landscape disturbances and vegetation regeneration patterns since 1985 Landsat satellite images will be obtained, that will provide reflectance measurements covering a 10000 km2 study area at 5 year intervals. The goal is to discriminate among landscape disturbances (thaw slumping, seismic tracks, roads, fires, drained lakes, etc.) that can impact water quality, fish habitat, and caribou forage. Ground deformation will be assessed and annual subsidence in upland tundra north of Inuvik and in the Peel Plateau using advanced Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR). Ground subsidence caused by: 1) seasonal thawing of the active-layer and 2) long- term subsidence caused by changes in climate and land cover disturbances will be measured. Mapping of annual and cumulative ground deformation, will allow the research team to identify thaw sensitive sediments, areas of high moisture content, and locations where permafrost is actively degrading. To identify the drivers of the observed changes the research team will compare disturbance maps from satellite imagery with existing data sets on: 1) natural disturbances, 2) human-caused disturbances, and 3) other biogeophysical variables. Linking broad-scale change detection with field studies and fine-scale mapping

Objective 2: To examine the causes and effects of tundra disturbances using detailed field investigations.

The research team will assess the impacts of human-caused and natural disturbances by measuring biotic and abiotic response variables at a range of disturbed and undisturbed sites. Research will focus on polygonal terrain, thaw slumps, and impact of the Dempster highway. Plot-level studies in stable and degrading polygonal terrain will analyze the interactions of plant community composition and abiotic factors. Plot-level studies in the Peel Plateau region will focus on the vegetation and soil conditions near the Dempster Highway. Both projects will measure vegetation composition, soil characteristics (pH, moisture, nutrient availability), permafrost characteristics, and snow conditions using plot and transect based methods. Fieldwork will have negligible impacts on the sampling sites.

Objective 3: To build local capacity for monitoring vegetation and permafrost in the region by implementing a community-based monitoring protocol.

For the past three years the research team has been working in the Mackenzie Delta and Peel Plateau regions to develop a vegetation and permafrost monitoring protocol that can be implemented by a range of participants (community members, university and government scientists, government inspectors, etc.). The research team established 35 environmental monitoring sites to characterize baseline variation in vegetation, snow, and permafrost. Throughout this project work will be continued with local monitors, the Inuvialuit Hunters and Trappers Committees and the Tetlit Gwich’in Renewable Resources Council to expand this network using a community-based sampling protocol. Key variables in the community-based sampling protocol include: vegetation structure, ground temperatures, berry productivity, shrub growth and abundance, soils, ground temperatures, thaw depth, and snow conditions. At core sites meteorological stations, frost tubes, and ground temperature cables will be maintained. Comparing biotic and abiotic conditions at these sites with the range of variability at undisturbed sites will allow the research team to evaluate the relative impacts of different forms of disturbances. Combined with the work using satellite images to quantify broad-scale changes of associated disturbances, this fieldwork will provide data that can be used to develop a regional model of cumulative impacts. Re-sampling baseline sites on an ongoing basis will also allow the research team to determine if vegetation and permafrost conditions are responding to increased air temperatures at undisturbed sites.
Project findings will be communicated using a plain language summary. This report will highlight project findings and successes and will be made available through the NWT discovery portal.

The research team will organize the project team meeting to coincide with the NWT Geoscience forum so that presentations can be made of recent findings. To communicate with community stakeholders and project partners the annual steering committee meeting will be organized to coincide with Research Days in Inuvik, where project team members will give presentations.

Spatial Datasets on the timing, distribution, and magnitude, of landscape scale disturbances, and vegetation change will be added to the NWT Discovery Portal and the NWT Spatial Data Warehouse online map viewer.

Field data on vegetation structure, community composition, berry production, active layer depth, and soils will be uploaded to the NWT Discovery Portal.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 10, 2012 to December 31, 2012.