Advancing High Spatial and Spectral Resolution Remote Sensing for Observing Plant Community Response to Environmental Variability and Change in the Alaskan Arctic

Sergio A Vargas Zesati, University of Texas at El Paso


The Arctic is being impacted by climate change more than any other region on Earth. Impacts to terrestrial ecosystems have the potential to manifest through feedbacks with other components of the Earth System. Of particular concern is the potential for the massive store of soil organic carbon to be released from arctic permafrost to the atmosphere where it could exacerbate greenhouse warming and impact global climate and biogeochemical cycles. Even though substantial gains to our understanding of the changing Arctic have been made, especially over the past decade, linking research results from plot to regional scales remains a challenge due to the lack of adequate low/mid-altitude sampling platforms, logistic constraints, and the lack of cross-scale validation of research methodologies. The prime motivation of this study is to advance observational capacities suitable for documenting multi-scale environmental change in arctic terrestrial landscapes through the development and testing of novel ground-based and low altitude remote sensing methods. Specifically this study addressed the following questions: • How well can low-cost kite aerial photography and advanced computer vision techniques model the microtopographic heterogeneity of changing tundra surfaces? • How does imagery from kite aerial photography and fixed time-lapse digital cameras (pheno-cams) compare in their capacity to monitor plot-level phenological dynamics of arctic vegetation communities? • Can the use of multi-scale digital imaging systems be scaled to improve measurements of ecosystem properties and processes at the landscape level? • How do results from ground-based and low altitude digital remote sensing of the spatiotemporal variability in ecosystem processes compare with those from satellite remote sensing platforms? Key findings from this study suggest that cost-effective alternative digital imaging and remote sensing methods are suitable for monitoring and quantifying plot to landscape level ecosystem structure and phenological dynamics at multiple temporal scales. Overall, this study has furthered our knowledge of how tundra ecosystems in the Arctic change seasonally and how such change could impact remote sensing studies conducted from multiple platforms and across multiple spatial scales. Additionally, this study also highlights the urgent need for research into the validation of satellite products in order to better understand the causes and consequences of the changing Arctic and its potential effects on global processes. This study focused on sites located in northern Alaska and was formed in collaboration with Florida International University (FIU) and Grand Valley State University (GVSU) as a contribution to the US Arctic Observing Network (AON). All efforts were supported through the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Cyber-ShARE Center of Excellence, and the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX).

Subject Area

Geographic information science|Environmental science|Remote sensing

Recommended Citation

Vargas Zesati, Sergio A, "Advancing High Spatial and Spectral Resolution Remote Sensing for Observing Plant Community Response to Environmental Variability and Change in the Alaskan Arctic" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10282456.