Boreal and Arctic regions of Alaska are warming more rapidly than other parts of the world, resulting in the thawing of permafrost, higher rates and severity of disturbance events, and the expansion of tree and shrub areas. Together, these changes are having a profound impact on ecosystem structure and function. Shifts in vegetation and habitat conditions due to changes in climate have significant implications for wildlife populations breeding in Arctic ecosystems. Shifts in breeding distributions of several species of birds have already been documented in Alaska, but little is understood about the ecological processes governing these changes. One consequence of a warming climate is the impact on the habitats used by migratory birds in the region, but the extent and variation of these impacts across Alaska landscapes are not well understood.
Through the Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative, USGS strives to inform key resource decisions by providing scientific information on current and potential future ecosystem responses to a changing climate. The objective of this research is to provide exploitable knowledge to support research and informed decision making by quantifying vegetation and landscape change over the last three decades in a Boreal-Arctic transition ecosystem. In 2013, we established a collaborative research project between Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the Alaska Science Center in Anchorage, Alaska, to develop consistently derived land cover classifications and change detection products spanning a 25-year history across the Boreal-Arctic transition zone of western Alaska using multi-scale time-series analyses. For this project, we are using the freely available 30-m resolution Landsat data to create classification and change maps over the Seward Peninsula. Products of the project will be used to quantify the environmental drivers of changes in breeding populations and communities of migratory birds. Moreover, products illustrating the ecological effects of climate change on vegetation and associated communities will have broader utility in evaluating the effects of a changing climate on plant and animal communities in the region, and are of profound importance to scientists, resource managers, and decision makers concerned with prospective natural resource management issues.