Remote Sensing of Vegetation Change Across a Latitudinal Gradient in the Canadian Arctic
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Global air surface temperatures and precipitation have increased over the last several decades resulting in a trend of greening across the Circumpolar Arctic. The spatial variability of warming and the inherent effects on plant communities has not proven to be uniform or homogeneous on global or local scales. We can apply remote sensing vegetation indices such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to map and monitor vegetation change (e.g., phenology, greening, percent cover, and biomass) over time. It is important to document how Arctic vegetation is changing, as it will have large implications related to global carbon and surface energy budgets. The research reported here examined vegetation greening across different spatial and temporal scales at two disparate Arctic sites: Apex River Watershed (ARW), Baffin Island, and Cape Bounty Arctic Watershed Observatory (CBAWO), Melville Island, NU. To characterize the vegetation in the ARW, high spatial resolution WorldView-2 data were processed to create a supervised land-cover classification and model percent vegetation cover (PVC) (a similar process had been completed in a previous study for the CBAWO). Meanwhile, NDVI data spanning the past 30 years were derived from intermediate resolution Landsat data at the two Arctic sites. The land-cover classifications at both sites were used to examine the Landsat NDVI time series by vegetation class. Climate variables (i.e., temperature, precipitation and growing season length (GSL) were examined to explore the potential relationships of NDVI to climate warming. PVC was successfully modeled using high resolution data in the ARW. PVC and plant communities appear to reside along a moisture and altitudinal gradient. The NDVI time series demonstrated an overall significant increase in greening at the CBAWO (High Arctic site), specifically in the dry and mesic vegetation type. However, similar overall greening was not observed for the ARW (Low Arctic site). The overall increase in NDVI at the CBAWO was attributed to a significant increase in July temperatures, precipitation and GSL.