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Vegetation change as related to terrain factors at two glacier forefronts, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.A.


Glacier recession is a globally occurring trend. Although a rich body of work has documented glacial response to climate warming, few studies have assessed vegetation cover change in recently deglaciated areas, especially using geospatial technologies. Here, vegetation change at two glacier forefronts in Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.A. was quantified through remote sensing analysis, fieldwork validation, and statistical modeling. Specifically, we assessed the spatial and temporal patterns of landcover change at the two glacier forefronts in Glacier National Park and determined the role of selected biophysical terrain factors (elevation, slope, aspect, solar radiation, flow accumulation, topographic wetness index, and surficial geology) on vegetation change (from non-vegetated to vegetated cover) at the deglaciated areas. Landsat imagery of the study locations in 1991, 2003, and 2015 were classified and validated using visual interpretation. Model results revealed geographic differences in biophysical correlates of vegetation change between the study areas, suggesting that terrain variation is a key factor affecting spatial-temporal patterns of vegetation change. At Jackson Glacier forefront, increases in vegetation over some portion or all of the study period were negatively associated with elevation, slope angle, and consolidated bedrock. At Grinnell Glacier forefront, increases in vegetation associated negatively with elevation and positively with solar radiation. Integrated geospatial and field approaches to the study of vegetation change in recently deglaciated terrain are recommended to understand and monitor processes and patterns of ongoing habitat change in rapidly changing mountain environments.

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The authors would like to thank Tara Carolin, Director of the Crown of the Continent LearningCenter Glacier National Park for providing logistical support and permitting, and Richard Menicke of National Park service for providing GIS data on moraines and ice boundaries. Stewart Scales and Peter Forister produced maps for Figure 1. Financial support was provided by the Virginia Tech, Department of Geography, Sidman P. Poole Endowment.

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Correspondence to Lynn M. Resler.

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Lambert, C.B., Resler, L.M., Shao, Y. et al. Vegetation change as related to terrain factors at two glacier forefronts, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.A.. J. Mt. Sci. 17, 1–15 (2020).

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  • Land cover change
  • Physical geography
  • Glacial forefronts
  • Vegetation change
  • Glacier National Park
  • Terrain factors