Integrated terrain unit mapping on the Beaufort Coastal Plain, North Slope, Alaska, USA

Abstract

Context

Integrated Terrain Unit (ITU) mapping is a technique used to develop maps depicting specific ecosystem services and landscape sensitivity measures useful for land-use planning and sampling designs for spatially stratified studies.

Objectives

Here we describe ITU classifications, mapping techniques, and geospatial products developed from 1992 to 2018 for arctic tundra in northern Alaska in areas of ongoing oil production and exploration.

Methods

We used data from 1779 field plots to classify and map geomorphology, surface form, vegetation, and disturbance history. We then derived map products for ecotypes, wildlife habitats, and U.S. National Wetland Inventory (NWI) wetlands by aggregating functionally similar ITU combinations. We evaluated the extent to which ground conditions may have changed in older portions of the ITU mapping using a map of Landsat-observed trends in Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for 1985–2012.

Results

The cumulative result of 26 years of study is a 3532.4 km2 area of ITU mapping. The ITU code combinations were aggregated into 66 map ecotypes, 34 wildlife habitats, and 18 wetland classes. Most of the mapping area (65.4%) experienced no significant trend in vegetation greenness. Nearly all of the remaining area (34.6%) exhibited an increase in greenness.

Conclusions

The ITU mapping provides a baseline for monitoring future change against a backdrop of climate change and ongoing industrial activity. The map products serve as proxies for important subsurface characteristics in permafrost landscapes, and have facilitated seminal studies of landscape development and change in arctic Alaska.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded between 1992 and 1999 by ARCO, Alaska, Inc. and Kuukpik Unit Owners and was managed by Michael Joyce. This study was funded between 2000 and 2002 by Phillips Alaska, Inc. and was managed by Caryn Rea. This study was funded between 2002 and 2018 by ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. and was managed by Caryn Rea (2002–2011) and Robyn McGhee (2011–2018). Numerous individuals have contributed to mapping, field work, data analysis, and reporting including: Olga Afonina, Betty Anderson, Ed Ashmead, Rebecca Baird, Stan Bearup, Susan Bishop, George Brady , Robert M. Burgess, Tim Cater, Tom DeLong, Dorte Dissing, Michael Duffy, Michael Emers, Zawisza Grabinski-Parker, Tai Graham, Brian J. Heitz, Ashley Hovis, Erin K. Johnson, Anja N. Kade, Leah Kenney, Janet G. Kidd, Tony LaCortiglia, Will Lentz, Robert McKnown, Tawna C. Morgan, Luke McDonagh, Elizabeth Miner, Jennifer S. Mitchell, Stephen M. Murphy, Debbie Nigro, Pam Odom, Barbara O’Donnel, Martha K. Raynolds, Jennifer Roof, Loni Rossow, Sharon F. Schlentner, Michael D. Smith, Alice A. Stickney, Dave K. Swanson, Christopher S. Swingley, Ina Timling, Ellen R. Trainor, Maggie Valentine-Graham, Gerrit Vyn, Mikhail Zhurbenko, Thomas M. Zimmer, and Allison Zusi. Many thanks to you all.

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Wells, A.F., Frost, G.V., Macander, M.J. et al. Integrated terrain unit mapping on the Beaufort Coastal Plain, North Slope, Alaska, USA. Landscape Ecol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-020-01154-x

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Keywords

  • Arctic tundra
  • Alaska
  • Ecosystem mapping
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Wetlands
  • Permafrost