ShrubTundra Project

The NERC ShrubTundra project (NE/M016323/1) is quantifying the role of climate as a driver of tundra shrub expansion and tundra greening.

In the ShrubTundra project, we are 1) quantifying the role of climate as a driver of tundra shrub expansion and 2) testing the correspondence between tundra shrub expansion and remotely-sensed tundra greening. Together this research will provide estimates of: 1) the rates of change in shrub canopy cover due to climate warming, 2) the strength of climate drivers of shrub growth, and 3) the correspondence among plot-scale and remotely sensed vegetation change across the tundra biome.

Our proposal research combines biome-scale data synthesis with field-based testing of these predictions at our focal research site Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island. Our analyses will provide tests of our ability to measure on-the-ground vegetation changes using remotely-sensed data, thereby improving our abilities to project future tundra vegetation change.

Work Package 1: To scale tundra vegetation change-climate interactions from plot to biome
We are integrating locally collected data from sites around the Arctic and remotely-sensed data to test whether growing season temperatures are the primary driver of tundra vegetation change and whether remotely sensed data on patterns of greening capture a signal that correlates with spatial and temporal variation in local-scale shrub expansion.

Work Package 2: To link patterns of tundra greening and vegetation change at the landscape scale
To scale from plot to biome at our focal research site Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island, we are enhancing long-term ecological monitoring of tundra vegetation change by collecting high spatial resolution measurements of tundra greenness and associated environmental data using drones (remotely piloted aircraft systems or UAVs). We will use these data to compare remotely-sensed greening trends to long-term vegetation composition data to explore the spatial and temporal drivers of tundra greening.

Work Package 3: To integrate the predictions of shrub growth and tundra greening to estimate future tundra vegetation change
We are integrating the findings of our biome-wide data syntheses with the landscape-level findings and the study sites of our international partners and collaborators working around the tundra biome to make data-driven predictions of shrub increases and vegetation change.

Project Team:
Andy Cunliffe, Anne Bjorkman, Jakob Assmann, Haydn Thomas, Sandra Angers-Blondin, Damien Georges, Jeff Kerby, Sarah Elmendorf, Herschel Island – Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park Staff and international collaborators

Field and laboratory assistants: Santeri Lehtonen, Joe Boyle, John Godlee, Eleanor Walker

Airborne GeoScience: Tom Wade (pilot), Simon Gibson-Poole (PhD student), Callum Tyler (robotics intern)

See recent publications:
Myers-Smith IH, et al. 2015. Climate sensitivity of shrub expansion across the tundra biome. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate2697