Evaluating peatland permafrost characteristics and vulnerability along the Labrador Sea coastline using uncrewed aerial vehicles

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Beer, Jordan M.
Permafrost , Peatland , UAV , Labrador , Resiliency
Permafrost in peatland environments often creates unique elevated landforms known as palsas and peat plateaus. These landforms provide important wildlife habitat, store large quantities of carbon, and are often used by Indigenous people (Innu and Inuit) living in coastal Labrador. Palsas and peat plateaus in southern Labrador are some of the most southern lowland permafrost features in the northern hemisphere, making them particularly vulnerable to thaw as global air temperatures continue to rise. However, assessing the thaw risk of peatland permafrost in the region remains difficult due to a lack of baseline geomorphological and ecological information. This thesis aims to address this knowledge gap by providing the first large scale examination of peatland permafrost characteristics along the Labrador Sea coastline. We conducted detailed site level analyses at 20 peatland permafrost complexes, spanning a latitudinal range from Blanc-Sablon (51.4°N) to Nain (56.5°N). For each site, we delineated the permafrost landform extents and extracted information about the features using high resolution imagery and structure-from-motion data products. We examined how characteristics such as landform height, extent, ice content, fragmentation, and vegetation height vary across the study region, and compared this to peatland permafrost landforms in other parts of the world. We also developed a relative permafrost resiliency index, which we used to evaluate spatial patterns in permafrost degradation states. This thesis offers novel methods for extracting geomorphological information using UAV data and provides comprehensive characterization of peatland permafrost in a previously understudied region.
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