A Multi-scale Assessment of Cumulative Impacts in the Northern Mackenzie Basin

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area

Tags: revegetation, landscape disturbance, cumulative effects, satellite imagery

Principal Investigator: Lantz, Trevor C. (20)
Licence Number: 15649
Organization: University of Victoria
Licenced Year(s): 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Issued: Mar 12, 2015
Project Team: Trevor Lantz ( Project Coordinator, UVIC), Richard Binder (Community Liason, IJS), Claire Marchildon (Project Researcher, CIMP), Yu Zhang (Project Researcher, CCMEO), Robert Fraser (Project Researcher, CCMEO), Sergey Samsonov (Project Researcher, CCMEO), Ian Olthof (Project Researcher, CCMEO), Steve Kokelj (Project Researcher, NTGO), Chanda Brietzke (Student Researcher, UVIC), Paige Bennett (Student Researcher, UVIC), Will Tyson (Student Researcher, UVIC), Abra Martin (Student Researcher, UVIC), Krista Chin (Project Researcher, UVIC), Emily Cameron (Student Researcher, UVIC)

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

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, drained lakes, etc.) in the northern Mackenzie Basin.

To quantify landscape disturbances and vegetation regeneration patterns since 1985 the research team will obtain Landsat satellite images 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. The team will assess ground deformation 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 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 we 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. During the 2015 field season, research will focus on polygonal terrain, drained lakes, and all weather road sites, as well as Delta lakes. Plot-level studies in polygonal terrain and drained lake basins will explore the interactions of plant community composition and permafrost soil conditions. Plot-level studies in the Peel Plateau and Tuktoyaktuk coastlands will focus on the vegetation and soil conditions adjacent to all weather roads. Both projects will measure vegetation composition, soil characteristics (pH, moisture, and nutrient availability), permafrost characteristics, and snow conditions using plot and transect based methods. Lake-level studies will measure physical parameters (depth, sill height), characterize water quality (pH, temperature, turbidity, conductivity, and solute chemistry), and examine macrophyte productivity and community composition in lakes of different closure classes (flooding frequencies).

The research team will continue to maintain a network of ground temperature loggers established in small (2 ha) polygonal peatlands near Tuktoyaktuk (N69.366, W 133.035), Inuvik (N68.315, W133.434), and Jimmy Lake (N68.648, W133.626). To examine the influence of snow depth of ground temperatures at these sites we will to experimentally increase snow cover using snow fences. 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 four 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 has established 81 environmental monitoring sites to characterize baseline variation in vegetation, snow, and permafrost. Throughout this project the team will continue to work with local monitors, the Inuvialuit Hunters and Trappers Committees and the Gwich’in Renewable Resource Councils 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 the research team will also maintain meteorological stations, frost tubes, and ground temperature cables. Field sampling from 2014-2016 will focus on the following site types: tussock tundra, spruce forest, and sedge wetlands. Comparing biotic and abiotic conditions at these sites with the range of variability at undisturbed sites will allow us 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 team to determine if vegetation and permafrost conditions are responding to increased air temperatures at undisturbed sites.

This project will involve the participation of Inuvialuit and Gwich’in land-users and community youth who will assist with data collection and work as wildlife monitors. Wildlife monitors will also assist with site selection based on their knowledge and expertise.

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 Geoscience discovery portal. The research team will organize the project team meeting 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 March 11, 2015 to December 31, 2015.