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. (24)
Licence Number: 16322
Organization: University of Victoria
Licenced Year(s): 2019 2018 2017
Issued: Jun 05, 2018
Project Team: Trevor Lantz (Lead Researcher, University of Victoria), Ashley Rudy (Researcher, Wilfrid Laurier University), Robert Fraser (Researcher, NRCan), Steve Kokelj (Researcher, NWT Geological Survey), Angel Chen (Graduate Student, University of Victoria), Tracey Proverbs (Reseach Assistant, University of Victoria), Kiyo Campbell (Reseach Assistant, University of Victoria), Nicola Shipman (Graduate Student, University of Victoria), Jordan Seider (Graduate Student, University of Victoria)

Objective(s): To use remote sensing to document regional landscape change; 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 research are:
1) to use remote sensing (Landsat, QuickBird, InSAR, Airphotos, UAVs, etc.) to document regional landscape change (tundra fire, infrastructure, saline flooding, slumps, subsidence, vegetation change, lake drainage / expansion, etc.); and,
2) to 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 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 research team will also use statistical analyses to compare the maps of landscape change with biophysical data from a variety of sources.

Over the past 8 years the team have established a network of sites (disturbed and undisturbed) that are being used to monitor vegetation, permafrost, soils, and water quality. Specifically, the research 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 4 years, the research team will continue to these sites to monitor change. Between 2018 and 2021, the team will also expand this network to include sites in areas of special interest. In 2018, the efforts will focus on the ecological impacts of tundra fire. To examine the effect of fire severity on ecological recovery, the team will conduct field surveys at six fires between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, which burned after 2012. At each site the team will measure vegetation and soil parameters in areas of moderate fire, severe fire and unburned controls. Vegetation recovery will also be measured using indices derived from aerial surveys completed using a UAV. In 2018, the research team will also establish sites adjacent to the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway, and in areas of the outer Mackenzie Delta impacted by flooding in 2016.

Whenever possible the research team will arrange to make presentations at northern Scientific meetings (Cumulative Impact 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 June 25, 2018 to December 31, 2018.