Drivers and constraints of ecological change in the western Arctic

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area

Tags: permafrost, landscape disturbance, vegetation, climate change, remote sensing

Principal Investigator: Lantz, Trevor C. (20)
Licence Number: 16077
Organization: University of Victoria
Licenced Year(s): 2017
Issued: Apr 19, 2017
Project Team: Tracey Proverbs (Graduate Student, University of Victoria), Thomas Kiyo Campbell (Graduate Student, University of Victoria), Chanda Brietzke (Graduate Student, University of Victoria), Robert Fraser (Project Researcher, NRCan), Yu Zhang (Project Researcher, NRCan), Steven Kokelj (Project Researcher, NWT Geological Survey), Isla Myers-Smith (Project Researcher, University of Edinburgh), Jeff Kerby (Postdoctorial Researcher, University of Edinburgh), Andrew Cunliffe (Postdoctorial Researcher, University of Edinburgh), Scott Lamoureux (Project Researcher, Queens University), Bridget Rusk (Graduate Student, Queens University), Ashley Rudy (Postdoctorial Researcher, Queens University)

Objective(s): To use remote sensing to document the rate and extent of landscape change in the NWT; and, to use field sampling and monitoring to determine the causes and impacts of regional changes in vegetation, and permafrost.

Project Description: The objectives of this project are to:
1) use remote sensing (Landsat, QuickBird, InSAR, Airphotos, UAVs, etc.) to document the rate and extent of landscape change (slumps, subsidence, vegetation change, lake drainage / expansion, etc.) in the NWT; and,
2) use field sampling and monitoring to determine the causes and impacts of regional changes in vegetation, and permafrost.

To quantify landscape change across a range of scales since the 1980s the research team are using a combination of Landsat satellite images, aerial photos, Radarsat data, and helicopter imagery. The team will also conduct low-altitude (<300 ft) multicopter UAV surveys over small (1-10 ha), remote tundra sites. These surveys will be in full compliance with Transport Canada’s regulations and permitting for operating UAVs. The research team are using this information to map the rate, extent, and location of landscape change across the Beaufort Delta Region and to predict areas that are likely to be most sensitive in the future. To identify the drivers of observed changes the team will also use statistical analyses to compare the maps of landscape change with biophysical data from a variety of sources.

Over the past 7 years the research team have established a network of sites (disturbed and undisturbed) that are being used to monitor vegetation, permafrost, soils, and water quality. Specifically, the team are using plot or transect based methods, and instruments attached to dataloggers to measure vegetation (composition, structure, and population structure), soils (pH, moisture, and nutrient availability), permafrost (thaw depth, and ground temperature), and snow (late-winter depth and snow water equivalent). The lake-level studies focus on physical parameters (depth, sill height), water quality (pH, temperature, turbidity, conductivity, and solute chemistry), and vegetation (macrophyte productivity and community composition).

Over the next 5 years, the research team will continue to visit many of these sites to monitor change. Between 2017 and 2021, the team will also expand this network to include sites in areas of special interest. For example, in 2017, the team will establish sites in the vicinity to the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway to measure changes in vegetation, soils, permafrost, and water quality.

Over the next 5 years, the research team will also conduct a series detailed investigations to assess the changes that are documented using remote sensing. In 2017, these efforts will focus on the west coast of Banks Island where remote sensing shows that widespread vegetation dieback has occurred in some areas between 1985 and 2015. To examine the causes of this change the team will conduct field surveys in areas that have exhibited significant vegetation ‘browning' and areas that have remained stable. At each site the research team will measure vegetation (height, structure, and community composition), thaw depth, microtopography, soil moisture, habitat type, and goose fecal pellet density. The team will also assess herbivory using fine-scale surveys and collect vegetation and soil samples, which will be analysed for biomass and soil chemistry. Vegetation surveys will also be completed using a multicopter UAV.

Whenever possible the research team will arrange to make presentations at northern Scientific meetings (Cumulative Impacts Monitoring Program Results workshops, Inuvialuit Research Days, Gwich’in Water Summit etc), in the communities, and at the Western Arctic Research Centre. 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.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 20, 2017 to September 30, 2017.