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: 17060
Organization: University of Victoria
Licensed Year(s): 2022 2021 2019 2018 2017
Issued: Jun 23, 2022
Project Team: Trevor Lantz, Meghan Hamp, Hana Travers-Smith, Jordan Seider, Emma Street, Grant Francis, Karen Dunmall, Steve Kokelj, Sydney Goward

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.5277.

The objectives of this research are: 1) 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) 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 spatial scales since the 1980s the research team are using a combination of moderate and high resolution satellite images, aerial photos, and helicopter imagery. The team will also conduct low-altitude (<300 ft) multicopter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) surveys over small areas (1-10 ha), remote tundra sites. These surveys are in full compliance with Transport Canada’s regulations and permitting for operating an UAV’s. 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 to change 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 10 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 data loggers 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 research team will continue to visit these sites to monitor change. In 2022, the team will also expand this network to include sites in areas of special interest. In 2022, the fieldwork will focus on three research projects. The first project will examine the environmental factors associated with increasing tundra vegetation productivity (greening) in the Richardson Mountains and Tuktoyaktuk Coastlands. The second project will determine the causes of patchy vegetation recovery at gravel quarries excavated and abandoned during the construction of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway. The third project will explore the impacts of increasing thaw slump activity on water quality in the Hornaday watershed.

Fieldwork for the first and second projects involves measuring vegetation structure and composition (height, stem density, and percent cover), and a suite of abiotic variables (thaw depth, soil chemistry, gravimetric moisture, etc.) at field sites across the Tuktoyaktuk Coastlands and Richardson Mountains. Vegetation height, green vegetation fraction, and terrain characteristics (slope, potential soil moisture, etc.) will also be measured at the landscape scale (0.5 km2) using UAV imagery. In the third project the team will use aerial surveys to ground-truth maps of thaw slump development and growth created using the Planet satellite archive. This research is focused on the Hornaday Watershed southeast of Paulatuk. To examine the relationship between the area of a catchment impacted by slumping and water quality, the team will measure pH, conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen using a handheld probe (YSI ProDSS) at a number of streams that flow into the Hornaday River. Water samples will also be collected and analyzed for major ions and nutrients.


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 regional co-management organizations (Inuvialuit Game Council, Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board, Fisheries Joint Management Committee). When there is interest, we will also give oral presentations to Hunters and Trappers Committees/Renewable Resource Committees. Members of the research group will also continue to deliver public presentations at the Western Arctic Research Centre in Inuvik.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 27, 2022 to August 31, 2022