TUNDRAscape: Analyzing the effect of climate and human uses on tundra ecosystems by remote sensing

A project in the Terrestrial flagship of the Fram Centre:  Climate effects on terrestrial ecosystems, landscapes, society and indigenous people

This project will use high resolution remote sensing to analyze the effects of climate and human use on tundra ecosystems on a circumpolar scale. The project is connected to the NFR project TUNDRA. TUNDRA is a cross-disciplinary project that aims to investigate how environmental governance and socio-economic conditions influence ecosystems and the services they provide to local people in the tundra regions of Russia, Canada, Alaska and Norway.  The present project will make use of the TUNDRA-design as well as data collected by TUNDRA.

The project will analyze high resolution images of the landscape surrounding a selection of tundra settlements in Russia, Canada, Norway and Alaska. A reference area 30 km from each settlement will also be analyzed. The images will be analyzed with respect to vegetation state and traces of human use. These variables will be related to data collected by the TUNDRA project including natural context variables such as climate and bedrock, and data on historical use, socio-economic conditions and governance.  The TUNDRA project will also provide data from focus group interviews of local people including participatory mapping.

The project includes the following partners: the University of Tromsø (leader), NINA and NIKU. NINA and UiT will be responsible for analyzes of vegetation while NIKU will be responsible for analyzes of human traces including cultural heritage sites. The project will strengthen the cross-disciplinary research on socio-ecological systems in the FRAM centre.

Main objectives

The project will answer questions related to the human drivers of the ecosystem, important ecosystem services for local people and ecosystem change.

1. Drivers of change: How does the human use of the landscape differ under contrasting socio-economic conditions and governance?

  • How: Traces of human use will be analyzed in a selection of settlements with contrasting governance regime and socio-economic conditions.

2. Ecosystem services: What are the landscape features and human traces in places that are important for cultural and subsistence activities?

  • How: Interviews and participatory mapping will be combined with traces of human use.

3. Ecosystem change: What is the relationship between the historic use of the landscape and the present state of the vegetation?

  • How: Traces of historic use and vegetation characteristics will be combined with data from focus group interviews, history of the region and the settlement.

4. Ecosystem change: How does grazing pressure influence vegetation state?

  • How: Vegetation characteristics will be compared across settlements with wild reindeer and semi-domesticated reindeer respectively (Russia only).
  • How: Vegetation characteristics will be compared among sites with low and high hunting pressure on caribou/reindeer (Alaska, Canada, eastern Taimyr).
  • How: Vegetation characteristics will be compared in areas with high and low abundance of wolves (Alaska, Canada).

5. Ecosystem change: How does climate change influence vegetation transitions?

  • How: Decadal changes in vegetation will be investigated from “ground truth” Landsat images in areas subject to small and large recent changes in temperature.
  • How: Vegetation data will serve as baseline data for future vegetation transitions.

Remote sensing design

High resolution images from Quickbird of the landscape surrounding the selected settlements will be taken in the period 15 July-15 August. Existing pictures taken by Geo Eye or Quickbird will be used when available. Norwegian settlements are covered by high-resolution aerial photographs provided by Statens Kartverk (www.norgeibilder.no).

We will use one 100 km2 image covering the settlement, and a similar reference image 30 km from the settlement. The image covering the settlement will reflect intensive use, while the reference image will reflect extensive use of the landscape. Most settlements are situated along riverbanks or coastlines, and the settlements will be placed on the edge of the image defined by natural barriers (e.g. coastline, riverbank). The reference image will be placed randomly along the 30 km periphery.

Climate and extensive use of the landscape such as reindeer grazing and hunting will influence the ecosystem on a large scale. In order to “scale-up”, we will use the high-resolution images as ground truth for analyses of vegetation from Landsat images. The use of Landsat images will also make it possible to investigate changes in vegetation due to climate change on a decadal time scale.