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Predicting Alder shrub expansion in Sub-Arctic Alaska using machine learning, satellite data, and environmental variables

Harding, Millicent (2024) Predicting Alder shrub expansion in Sub-Arctic Alaska using machine learning, satellite data, and environmental variables. Masters thesis, Durham University.



The wider Fairbanks area, a sub-Arctic region of Alaska, USA, is home to a variety of alpine, oroarctic tundra that is being impacted by climate warming. This has resulted in an infilling and expansion of shrubs across the tundra and an elevational increase in the range limits of tall shrubs. Expansion of Alder (a key pioneer tall shrub) is thought to result from Arctic warming and shifts in its spread are likely to be a result of such warming.

Alder can fix atmospheric nitrogen by virtue of a mutualistic association with soil bacteria, which subsequently becomes available to other shrubs, potentially relieving local soil nitrogen limitations and promoting a positive growth response to climate warming. This potential landscape-scale change requires information of change at a suitable scale. However, Alder and other tall shrubs have been hard to measure using existing remote sensing approaches alone. This is mainly due to issues surrounding data availability and suitable spatial resolution of imagery.

Satellite remote sensing and environmental data are combined to create a map of Alder expansion across the wider Fairbanks area. A methodology is presented where ecological variables are integrated into prediction maps using a combination of regression and machine learning to estimate spatial extents. A baseline for a minimum number of high resolution training polygons is found to understand minimum required inputs. Field-based validation data were collected using a random sampling design across four different locations within the Yukon-Koyukuk area, Alaska. The combination of satellite data and environmental variables yields the best results for predicting Alder locations across the study area with a model accuracy of 0.99 and User’s accuracy of 43.66%. Orthomosaics as validation data are found to be very useful, enabling better quantification of smaller plant functional types for more accurate error matrix class assignment increasing overall model accuracy.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Science
Keywords:shrubification, machine learning, Arctic, satellite data, tundra, Alaska
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:12 Feb 2024 11:15

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