skip to main content

Title: Local-scale Arctic tundra heterogeneity affects regional-scale carbon dynamics
Abstract In northern Alaska nearly 65% of the terrestrial surface is composed of polygonal ground, where geomorphic tundra landforms disproportionately influence carbon and nutrient cycling over fine spatial scales. Process-based biogeochemical models used for local to Pan-Arctic projections of ecological responses to climate change typically operate at coarse-scales (1km 2 –0.5°) at which fine-scale (<1km 2 ) tundra heterogeneity is often aggregated to the dominant land cover unit. Here, we evaluate the importance of tundra heterogeneity for representing soil carbon dynamics at fine to coarse spatial scales. We leveraged the legacy of data collected near Utqiaġvik, Alaska between 1973 and 2016 for model initiation, parameterization, and validation. Simulation uncertainty increased with a reduced representation of tundra heterogeneity and coarsening of spatial scale. Hierarchical cluster analysis of an ensemble of 21 st -century simulations reveals that a minimum of two tundra landforms (dry and wet) and a maximum of 4km 2 spatial scale is necessary for minimizing uncertainties (<10%) in regional to Pan-Arctic modeling applications.
Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1636476
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10212893
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Volume:
11
Issue:
1
ISSN:
2041-1723
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The microtopography associated with ice-wedge polygons governs many aspects of Arctic ecosystem, permafrost, and hydrologic dynamics from local to regional scales owing to the linkages between microtopography and the flow and storage of water, vegetation succession, and permafrost dynamics. Wide-spread ice-wedge degradation is transforming low-centered polygons into high-centered polygons at an alarming rate. Accurate data on spatial distribution of ice-wedge polygons at a pan-Arctic scale are not yet available, despite the availability of sub-meter-scale remote sensing imagery. This is because the necessary spatial detail quickly produces data volumes that hamper both manual and semi-automated mapping approaches across large geographical extents.more »Accordingly, transforming big imagery into ‘science-ready’ insightful analytics demands novel image-to-assessment pipelines that are fueled by advanced machine learning techniques and high-performance computational resources. In this exploratory study, we tasked a deep-learning driven object instance segmentation method (i.e., the Mask R-CNN) with delineating and classifying ice-wedge polygons in very high spatial resolution aerial orthoimagery. We conducted a systematic experiment to gauge the performances and interoperability of the Mask R-CNN across spatial resolutions (0.15 m to 1 m) and image scene contents (a total of 134 km2) near Nuiqsut, Northern Alaska. The trained Mask R-CNN reported mean average precisions of 0.70 and 0.60 at thresholds of 0.50 and 0.75, respectively. Manual validations showed that approximately 95% of individual ice-wedge polygons were correctly delineated and classified, with an overall classification accuracy of 79%. Our findings show that the Mask R-CNN is a robust method to automatically identify ice-wedge polygons from fine-resolution optical imagery. Overall, this automated imagery-enabled intense mapping approach can provide a foundational framework that may propel future pan-Arctic studies of permafrost thaw, tundra landscape evolution, and the role of high latitudes in the global climate system.« less
  2. Abstract

    Riverine fluxes of carbon and inorganic nutrients are increasing in virtually all large permafrost-affected rivers, indicating major shifts in Arctic landscapes. However, it is currently difficult to identify what is causing these changes in nutrient processing and flux because most long-term records of Arctic river chemistry are from small, headwater catchments draining <200 km2or from large rivers draining >100,000 km2. The interactions of nutrient sources and sinks across these scales are what ultimately control solute flux to the Arctic Ocean. In this context, we performed spatially-distributed sampling of 120 subcatchments nested within three Arctic watersheds spanning alpine, tundra, andmore »glacial-lake landscapes in Alaska. We found that the dominant spatial scales controlling organic carbon and major nutrient concentrations was 3–30 km2, indicating a continuum of diffuse and discrete sourcing and processing dynamics. These patterns were consistent seasonally, suggesting that relatively fine-scale landscape patches drive solute generation in this region of the Arctic. These network-scale empirical frameworks could guide and benchmark future Earth system models seeking to represent lateral and longitudinal solute transport in rapidly changing Arctic landscapes.

    « less
  3. Abstract

    Many studies have reported that the Arctic is greening; however, we lack an understanding of the detailed patterns and processes that are leading to this observed greening. The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) is used to quantify greening, which has had largely positive trends over the last few decades using low spatial resolution satellite imagery such as AVHRR or MODIS over the pan-Arctic region. However, substantial fine scale spatial heterogeneity in the Arctic makes this large-scale investigation hard to interpret in terms of vegetation and other environmental changes. Here we focus on one area of the northern Alaskan Arcticmore »using high spatial resolution (4 m) multispectral satellite imagery from DigitalGlobeto analyze the greening trend near Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow) over 14 years from 2002 to 2016. We found that tundra vegetation has been greening (τ = 0.65,p = 0.01, NDVI increase of 0.01 yr−1) despite no overall change in vegetation community composition. The greening is most closely correlated to the number of thawing degree days (R2 = 0.77,F = 21.5,p < 0.001) which increased in a similar linear trend over the 14 year study period (1.79 ± 0.50 days per year,p < 0.01,τ = −0.56). This suggests that in this Arctic ecosystem, greening is occurring due to a lengthening growing season that appears to stimulate plant productivity without any significant change in vegetation communities. We found that vegetation communities in wetter locations greened about twice as fast as those found in drier conditions supporting the hypothesis that these communities respond more strongly to warming. We suggest that in Arctic environments, vegetation productivity may continue to rise, particularly in wet areas.

    « less
  4. Lake formation and drainage are pervasive phenomena in permafrost regions. Drained lake basins (DLBs) are often the most common landforms in lowland permafrost regions in the Arctic (50% to 75% of the landscape). However, detailed assessments of DLB distribution and abundance are limited. In this study, we present a novel and scalable remote sensing-based approach to identifying DLBs in lowland permafrost regions, using the North Slope of Alaska as a case study. We validated this first North Slope-wide DLB data product against several previously published sub-regional scale datasets and manually classified points. The study area covered >71,000 km2, including amore »>39,000 km2 area not previously covered in existing DLB datasets. Our approach used Landsat-8 multispectral imagery and ArcticDEM data to derive a pixel-by-pixel statistical assessment of likelihood of DLB occurrence in sub-regions with different permafrost and periglacial landscape conditions, as well as to quantify aerial coverage of DLBs on the North Slope of Alaska. The results were consistent with previously published regional DLB datasets (up to 87% agreement) and showed high agreement with manually classified random points (64.4–95.5% for DLB and 83.2–95.4% for non-DLB areas). Validation of the remote sensing-based statistical approach on the North Slope of Alaska indicated that it may be possible to extend this methodology to conduct a comprehensive assessment of DLBs in pan-Arctic lowland permafrost regions. Better resolution of the spatial distribution of DLBs in lowland permafrost regions is important for quantitative studies on landscape diversity, wildlife habitat, permafrost, hydrology, geotechnical conditions, and high-latitude carbon cycling.« less
  5. Abstract

    The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global mean. This warming could further stimulate methane (CH4) emissions from northern wetlands and enhance the greenhouse impact of this region. Arctic wetlands are extremely heterogeneous in terms of geochemistry, vegetation, microtopography, and hydrology, and therefore CH4fluxes can differ dramatically within the metre scale. Eddy covariance (EC) is one of the most useful methods for estimating CH4fluxes in remote areas over long periods of time. However, when the areas sampled by these EC towers (i.e. tower footprints) are by definition very heterogeneous, due to encompassing a variety of environmentalmore »conditions and vegetation types, modelling environmental controls of CH4emissions becomes even more challenging, confounding efforts to reduce uncertainty in baseline CH4emissions from these landscapes. In this study, we evaluated the effect of footprint variability on CH4fluxes from two EC towers located in wetlands on the North Slope of Alaska. The local domain of each of these sites contains well developed polygonal tundra as well as a drained thermokarst lake basin. We found that the spatiotemporal variability of the footprint, has a significant influence on the observed CH4fluxes, contributing between 3% and 33% of the variance, depending on site, time period, and modelling method. Multiple indices were used to define spatial heterogeneity, and their explanatory power varied depending on site and season. Overall, the normalised difference water index had the most consistent explanatory power on CH4fluxes, though generally only when used in concert with at least one other spatial index. The spatial bias (defined here as the difference between the mean for the 0.36 km2domain around the tower and the footprint-weighted mean) was between ∣51∣% and ∣18∣% depending on the index. This study highlights the need for footprint modelling to infer the representativeness of the carbon fluxes measured by EC towers in these highly heterogeneous tundra ecosystems, and the need to evaluate spatial variability when upscaling EC site-level data to a larger domain.

    « less