Spatiotemporal remote sensing of ecosystem change and causation across Alaska

Global Change Biology
By: , and 

Links

Abstract

Contemporary climate change in Alaska has resulted in amplified rates of press and pulse disturbances that drive ecosystem change with significant consequences for socio‐environmental systems. Despite the vulnerability of Arctic and boreal landscapes to change, little has been done to characterize landscape change and associated drivers across northern high‐latitude ecosystems. Here we characterize the historical sensitivity of Alaska's ecosystems to environmental change and anthropogenic disturbances using expert knowledge, remote sensing data, and spatiotemporal analyses and modeling. Time‐series analysis of moderate—and high‐resolution imagery was used to characterize land‐ and water‐surface dynamics across Alaska. Some 430,000 interpretations of ecological and geomorphological change were made using historical air photos and satellite imagery, and corroborate land‐surface greening, browning, and wetness/moisture trend parameters derived from peak‐growing season Landsat imagery acquired from 1984 to 2015. The time series of change metrics, together with climatic data and maps of landscape characteristics, were incorporated into a modeling framework for mapping and understanding of drivers of change throughout Alaska. According to our analysis, approximately 13% (~174,000 ± 8700 km2) of Alaska has experienced directional change in the last 32 years (±95% confidence intervals). At the ecoregions level, substantial increases in remotely sensed vegetation productivity were most pronounced in western and northern foothills of Alaska, which is explained by vegetation growth associated with increasing air temperatures. Significant browning trends were largely the result of recent wildfires in interior Alaska, but browning trends are also driven by increases in evaporative demand and surface‐water gains that have predominately occurred over warming permafrost landscapes. Increased rates of photosynthetic activity are associated with stabilization and recovery processes following wildfire, timber harvesting, insect damage, thermokarst, glacial retreat, and lake infilling and drainage events. Our results fill a critical gap in the understanding of historical and potential future trajectories of change in northern high‐latitude regions.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Spatiotemporal remote sensing of ecosystem change and causation across Alaska
Series title Global Change Biology
DOI 10.1111/gcb.14279
Edition Online First
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
Country United States
State Alaska