Shrub cover appears to be increasing across many areas of the Arctic tundra biome, and increasing shrub cover in the Arctic has the potential to significantly impact global carbon budgets and the global climate system. For most of the Arctic, however, there is no existing baseline inventory of shrub canopy cover, as existing maps of Arctic vegetation provide little information about the density of shrub cover at a moderate spatial resolution across the region. Remotely-sensed fractional shrub canopy maps can provide this necessary baseline inventory of shrub cover. In this study, we compare the accuracy of fractional shrub canopy (> 0.5 m tall) maps derived from multi-spectral, multi-angular, and multi-temporal datasets from Landsat imagery at 30 m spatial resolution, Moderate Resolution Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MODIS) imagery at 250 m and 500 m spatial resolution, and MultiAngle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) imagery at 275 m spatial resolution for a 1067 km2 study area in Arctic Alaska. The study area is centered at 69 ??N, ranges in elevation from 130 to 770 m, is composed primarily of rolling topography with gentle slopes less than 10??, and is free of glaciers and perennial snow cover. Shrubs > 0.5 m in height cover 2.9% of the study area and are primarily confined to patches associated with specific landscape features. Reference fractional shrub canopy is determined from in situ shrub canopy measurements and a high spatial resolution IKONOS image swath. Regression tree models are constructed to estimate fractional canopy cover at 250 m using different combinations of input data from Landsat, MODIS, and MISR. Results indicate that multi-spectral data provide substantially more accurate estimates of fractional shrub canopy cover than multi-angular or multi-temporal data. Higher spatial resolution datasets also provide more accurate estimates of fractional shrub canopy cover (aggregated to moderate spatial resolutions) than lower spatial resolution datasets, an expected result for a study area where most shrub cover is concentrated in narrow patches associated with rivers, drainages, and slopes. Including the middle infrared bands available from Landsat and MODIS in the regression tree models (in addition to the four standard visible and near-infrared spectral bands) typically results in a slight boost in accuracy. Including the multi-angular red band data available from MISR in the regression tree models, however, typically boosts accuracy more substantially, resulting in moderate resolution fractional shrub canopy estimates approaching the accuracy of estimates derived from the much higher spatial resolution Landsat sensor. Given the poor availability of snow and cloud-free Landsat scenes in many areas of the Arctic and the promising results demonstrated here by the MISR sensor, MISR may be the best choice for large area fractional shrub canopy mapping in the Alaskan Arctic for the period 2000-2009.
Additional publication details
A comparison of multi-spectral, multi-angular, and multi-temporal remote sensing datasets for fractional shrub canopy mapping in Arctic Alaska