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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The use of repeat colour digital photography to monitor high Arctic tundra vegetation Beamish, Alison Leslie


High Arctic ecosystems are experiencing some of the earliest and most extreme changes in climate as a result of global climate change. Temperature increases twice the hemispheric average are initiating changes to terrestrial systems including shifts in timing of phenology, aboveground biomass and community composition of Arctic vegetation. Satellite imagery from the last 30 years has shown a greening across tundra ecosystems with increases in peak productivity and growing season length. A few plot scale field studies support these large-scale trends but overall validation at the plot scale is still lacking. Current manual and automated methods for monitoring vegetation at the community and plot scale is both time consuming and employs expensive, sensitive multispectral instrumentation that can be cumbersome to use in Arctic field sites. In this thesis I examine the utility of colour digital photography in monitoring tundra vegetation across four different vegetation communities, inside and outside of passive warming chambers. Colour and infrared photos were taken on one day peak season in 2010. Relationships between a greenness index derived from colour photographs and biomass data were compared to relationships with NDVI derived from infrared photographs. Results suggest that colour photographs can be used as a proxy for productivity and aboveground biomass in multiple tundra vegetation communities. These data were then used to infer phenological signals at multiple spatial scales from a set of colour photographs taken on six days during the 2012 growing season. Results show higher greenness values due to treatment at the plot scale but not at the individual scale suggesting greater green biomass in warmed plots. At the individual scale site differences emerged for two study species (Salix arctica, Dryas integrifolia) suggesting a difference in vegetation vigor due to differences in soil moisture and perhaps competition. The phenological signal was strongest at the species scale due to reduced interference from bare soil, litter and standing water. Overall, these results show the potential for this methodology for measuring vegetation in the Arctic. Its simplicity, affordability and efficiency has great potential for use in a vegetation monitoring network in the Arctic.

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Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada