Developing remote sensing tools for carbon and soil moisture in the Taiga Plains

Project keywords: Soil moisture, carbon, radar

Name of project lead: W. Quinton

Project team/partners: For each collaborator please specify: Team member name, role, organization and contact information
 W. Quinton (Laurier); O. Sonnentag (Montreal); L. Chasmer (Laurier); J. Baltzer (Laurier); P. Marsh (NWRI); S. Kokelj (INAC); T. Lakusta (ENR); C. Hopkinson (Laurier).

This is part of a larger study with sites in N. Ontario (M. Mackay, Carleton; A. Berg, Guelph; B. Branfireun, Western) and N. Alberta (R. Petrone, Laurier).

Status: In Progress

Location: Gwich’in, Decho and Inuvialuit Settlement regions.

Year and month project started: 2012

Anticipated completion year of project? 2015

Executive year of project (example, year 1 or 2 or 3…) 2

Brief project description:

Global climate warming and its environmental consequences are unlikely to proceed in an easily predictable fashion due to complex feedback processes. The Taiga Plains is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Permafrost thaw is one of the most important and dramatic manifestations of climate warming in this region, and is strongly influenced by feedback processes. It is also a catalyst for changes to carbon cycle and soil moisture regimes. The discontinuous permafrost zone of the subarctic is where the most dramatic changes are currently observed (i.e. disappearance). The subarctic is also sensitive to thawing permafrost resulting in a deeper active layer, slumping and significant changes in soil water storage and carbon cycling. There are strong indications that permafrost thaw is changing soil moisture and carbon cycling, yet little is known about the governing mechanisms and feedbacks. This shortcoming hampers our ability to make reliable predictions future carbon cycling and soil moisture regimes in the Taiga Plains.

Significance of the results (rationale): / project linkages

For the past few decades, Canadian researchers have studied permafrost ecosystems in a compartmentalised fashion, focusing on individual ecosystem components (e.g. water, terrestrial ecology). Consequently, past and present moisture and carbon cycling processes at a range of scales are not well characterised. Furthermore the lack of long-term monitoring and the absence of integrated programmes have resulted in unequivocal conclusions based on sparse data. An integrated understanding of soil moisture and carbon-cycling response to climate change and anthropogenic disturbances in the subarctic cannot be addressed by individual research projects, or using only field measurements. Therefore, this project will gather diverse and complimentary world-class expertise within Canada, and with international partners. We will examine the integrated mechanisms, interactions and feedbacks between biotic and abiotic components of warming Taiga Plains ecosystems and will develop NWT-based expertise in two high priority areas: i) using airborne and space-borne remote sensing data and ecosystem models to assess changes in above ground biomass linked to carbon dioxide fluxes within rapidly changing land cover areas; and ii) validating remotely sensed estimates of soil moisture within different land cover types, used as inputs into ecosystem models of CO2 exchange. We will bridge disciplinary boundaries, forge new collaborations among researchers and with international groups, and provide Earth-based trainings for both the current and next generation of northern scientists and managers.

Key deliverables and reporting: Link to needs of NWT

This study aims to achieve the following: 1) Use a combination of remote sensing and intensive ground-based measurements to define and measure the major topography, vegetation, permafrost and soil characteristics of each representative site type, and define their distributions; 2) For each representative site type, define the sub-grid processes controlling the a) flux and storage of near-surface (0-0.4 m) soil moisture and b) carbon cycling, and how soil moisture and carbon cycling are linked; 3) Use LiDAR and RADARSAT-2 imagery, and information from [1] and [2] to couple field measurements to remote sensing information and develop tools for space-borne distributed soil moisture measurements for dominant subarctic terrain regions, and develop data sets for validating predictive models in [4] below; 4) Test, validate, and improve existing models used to predict soil moisture and carbon dynamics at a range of scales from point to regional.

Engagement, training and capacity building

This project couples ground-based studies at Scotty Creek with remotely sensed studies through collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA. The field studies benefit from the direct involvement of LKFN (Allan Bouvier, Alan Bonnetrouge) on both data gathering and field logistics, and indirectly through their guidance.

Links to WSIPlan and NWT Science Agenda

– 1.1; 2.1 – informally; 2.1B, C, D, F, G, H, I.

Key project tasks for next year (work plan pieces – research)

Key project tasks for next year (work plan pieces – engagement, training and capacity building)

Published Papers 1 paper