Landsat time series analysis documents beaver migration into permafrost landscapes of arctic Alaska

guido.grosse [ at ]


Landscape-scale impacts of climate change in the Arctic include increases in growing season length, shrubby vegetation, winter river discharge, snowfall, summer and winter water temperatures, and decreases in river and lake ice thickness. Combined, these changes may have created conditions that are suitable for beaver colonization of low Arctic tundra regions. We developed a semi-automated workflow that analyzes Landsat imagery time series to determine the extent to which beavers may have colonized permafrost landscapes in arctic Alaska since 1999. We tested this approach on the Lower Noatak, Wulik, and Kivalina river watersheds in northwest Alaska and identified 83 locations representing potential beaver activity. Seventy locations indicated wetting trends and 13 indicated drying trends. Verification of each site using high-resolution satellite imagery showed that 80 % of the wetting locations represented beaver activity (damming and pond formation), 11 % were unrelated to beavers, and 9 % could not readily be distinguished as being beaver related or not. For the drying locations, 31 % represented beaver activity (pond drying due to dam abandonment), 62 % were unrelated to beavers, and 7 % were undetermined. Comparison of the beaver activity database with historic aerial photography from ca. 1950 and ca. 1980 indicates that beavers have recently colonized or recolonized riparian corridors in northwest Alaska. Remote sensing time series observations associated with the migration of beavers in permafrost landscapes in arctic Alaska include thermokarst lake expansion and drainage, thaw slump initiation, ice wedge degradation, thermokarst shore fen development, and possibly development of lake and river taliks. Additionally, beaver colonization in the Arctic may alter channel courses, thermal regimes, hyporheic flow, riparian vegetation, and winter ice regimes that could impact ecosystem structure and function in this region. In particular, the combination of beaver activity and permafrost dynamics may play an important role in the formation of habitats conducive to colonization by Pacific salmon. Beaver activity in arctic tundra regions may amplify the effects of climate change on permafrost landscapes and lead to landscape-scale responses not currently being considered in ecosystem models.

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Conference (Poster)
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Not peer-reviewed
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Event Details
AGU Fall Meeting, 11 Dec 2017 - 15 Dec 2017, New Orleans, USA.
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Jones, B. , Tape, K. , Nitze, I. , Arp, C. D. , Grosse, G. and Zimmermann, C. E. (2017): Landsat time series analysis documents beaver migration into permafrost landscapes of arctic Alaska , AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans, USA, 11 December 2017 - 15 December 2017 .


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