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. (27)
Licence Number: 16837
Organization: University of Victoria
Licensed Year(s): 2022 2021 2019 2018 2017
Issued: Jun 02, 2021
Project Team: Trevor Lantz, Chanda Turner, Hana Travers-Smith, Jordan Seider, Zander Chila, Sarah Lord, Angel Chen, Mike Newton, Steve Kokelj

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

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.4749.

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 fit) 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 9 years, the team have established a network of sites (disturbed and undisturbed) that are being used to monitor the 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).

Over the next several years, the team will continue to use these sites to monitor change. Between 2018 and 2021, the research team will also expand this network to include sites in areas of special interest. In 2019, the fieldwork will focus primarily on two ongoing projects. The first of these projects examines the environmental factors associated with vegetation change within the Yukon North Slope and Tuktoyaktuk Coastlands. The second project focusses on tracking ecological recovery following saline flooding events that occurred in the outer Mackenzie Delta in 1999 and 2016. Fieldwork for both of these projects involves measuring a suite of variables (community composition, soil moisture, pH, soil chemistry, etc.) at the plot scale (1m2) and flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) surveys to measure vegetation height, green vegetation fraction, and terrain characteristics (slope, potential soil moisture, etc.) at the landscape scale (0.5km2). In 2019, the team will also return to sites that were established in previous years. Theses include 6 sites in the vicinity of Sachs Harbour and, 6 tundra fires in the Tuktoyaktuk Coastlands where the research team installed shallow thermistors to log temperatures at the top of permafrost. In 2019, the team will also measure thaw depth at 28 permanent plot sites adjacent to the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway.

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. The team will continue to provide periodic oral presentations at the regular meetings of the regional co-management organizations (Inuvialuit Game Council, Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board, Fisheries Joint Management Committee). When there is interest, the team will also give oral presentations to the Hunters and Trappers Committees/Renewable Resource Committees.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 3, 2021 to December 31, 2021.