Arctic shrub expansion revealed by Landsat-derived multitemporal vegetation cover fractions in the Western Canadian Arctic

Abstract

Warming induced shifts in tundra vegetation composition and structure, including circumpolar expansion of shrubs, modifies ecosystem structure and functioning with potentially global consequences due to feedback mechanisms between vegetation and climate. Satellite-derived vegetation indices indicate widespread greening of the surface, often associated with regional evidence of shrub expansion obtained from long-term ecological monitoring and repeated orthophotos. However, explicitly quantifying shrub expansion across large scales using satellite observations requires characterising the fine-scale mosaic of Arctic vegetation types beyond index-based approaches. Although previous studies have illustrated the potential of estimating fractional cover of various Plant Functional Types (PFTs) from satellite imagery, limited availability of reference data across space and time has constrained deriving fraction cover time series capable of detecting shrub expansion. We applied regressionbased unmixing using synthetic training data to build multitemporal machine learning models in order to esti­ mate fractional cover of shrubs and other surface components in the Mackenzie Delta Region for six time in­ tervals between 1984 and 2020. We trained Kernel Ridge Regression (KRR) and Random Forest Regression (RFR) models using Landsat-derived spectral-temporal-metrics and synthetic training data generated from pure class spectra obtained directly from the imagery. Independent validation using very-high-resolution imagery sug­ gested that KRR outperforms RFR, estimating shrub cover with a MAE of 10.6% and remaining surface com­ ponents with MAEs between 3.0 and 11.2%. Canopy-forming shrubs were well modelled across all cover densities, coniferous tree cover tended to be overestimated and differentiating between herbaceous and lichen cover was challenging. Shrub cover expanded by on average + 2.2% per decade for the entire study area and + 4.2% per decade within the low Arctic tundra, while relative changes were strongest in the northernmost regions. In conjunction with shrub expansion, we observed herbaceous plant and lichen cover decline. Our results corroborate the perception of the replacement and homogenisation of Arctic vegetation communities facilitated by the competitive advantage of shrub species under a warming climate. The proposed method allows for multidecadal quantitative estimates of fractional cover at 30 m resolution, initiating new opportunities for mapping past and present fractional cover of tundra PFTs and can help advance our understanding of Arctic shrub expansion within the vast and heterogeneous tundra biome.

Type
Publication
Remote Sensing of Environment
Leon Nill
Leon Nill
Doctoral Student
Patrick Hostert
Patrick Hostert
Principal Investigator