I. Project Overview:
This proposed project is part of a project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to understand the potential for climate warming to alter the storage of soil carbon in high-latitude arctic ecosystems. As climate warms, landscapes will increasingly become vegetated, and this will lead to greater storage of carbon in soils. To the extent that arctic landscapes sequester more carbon, this may serve as a carbon sink that could possibly slow the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases. Scientists refer to this process generally as a greening of the arctic.
We are particularly interested in wetland soils, or peat patches, dominated by peatmosses from the genus Sphagnum because they store the most carbon in arctic landscapes. There is evidence from Alaska and elsewhere in the arctic that these peat patches may have expanded in size over the past few decades with warming.
The overall goals of our research include
-sampling soils to measure the amount of carbon stored
-relate the soil carbon storage to the types of vegetation present
-map the spatial area of vegetation types
-measure potential environmental controls that might be affecting the area of peat patches, including air and soil temperatures, soil moisture, and topography.
Baffin Island is one of several research sites that will be studied as part of this research project. It is an ideal site because it lies at the northern frontier of peat formation and is likely to experience greening and enhanced peat formation in coming decades.
II. Proposed logistics base:
Our work will be based out of Iqaluit and the Nunavut Research Institute. We have been in contact with Mosha Cote and Rick Armstrong about accommodations at NRI.
Air travel will be by helicopter that is being contracted from Goose Bay, Labrador and staged in Iqaluit.
III. Proposed study sites:
The proposed research would be located on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, within approximately 400 km of Iqaluit (please see map). The polygons shown on the map are approximate and are based on a previously published map of arctic vegetation, which classifies these sites as nontussock sedge, dwarf shrub, moss tundra that is most likely to contain the types of peat patches we are interested in studying.
We plan to fly to each of the proposed 10 field sites specified in the map, and carry out the proposed field tasks below depending on the suitability of each site. If it is possible to allow flexibility in these locations, that would assist the proposed research, since the polygons may not be the most accurate representation of the vegetation type we wish to study.
IV. Proposed field work:
The proposed field research would include the following tasks:
(1) Collection of soil cores
At each site, we would collect multiple soil cores from the peat patches and adjacent mineral soil for the assessment of soil carbon. The cores would be approximately 5 cm in diameter and sampled to the basal depth of the peat (most likely 20-75 cm deep). Mineral soils would be collected to the depth of permafrost. Soils will be bagged and wrapped in protective containers and prepared for shipping back to the USA (in accordance with soils importation regulations/permits). We would likely collect a total of 40 cores (20 peat and 20 mineral) from all of the sites sampled. We are not certain yet the total number of cores that would need to be collected, so if there is flexibility in the permitting process to allow us to sample more than 40, this would help our research sampling be more flexible.
(2) Collection of meteorological data
At each site, we will deploy a small meteorological station capable of measuring environmental properties like air and soil temperatures and soil moisture. These will log data for several days, and we will return to the sites to retrieve all equipment. This information will help us assess the extent to which the peat patches are dependent on certain soil temperatures or moisture conditions.
(3) Mapping of surface topography and vegetation
To assess the spatial scale of the peat patches and the potential landscape controls on them, such as local topographic depressions, we will use high-resolution GPS units to take multiple measurements of topography and peat patch areas.
At each site, we will use small (1-x-1-m) sampling plots to identify different plant species and quantify their areal coverage. Herbarium specimens of different plant types would be collected and shipped back to the USA (in accordance with plant importation regulations/permits)
(4) Imaging surface vegetation
At each site, we will collect handheld and aerial imagery to help us map the coverage and spatial scales of the peat patches and their potential environmental controls, like topography. First, we will take hand-held spectroscopic measurements of the surface vegetation to understand how different plant species alter the reflectance of the landscape. This will help us interpret remote sensing and aerial imagery. Second, we will deploy a drone over a ~20-hectare area to a height of ~250 m (in accordance with all US and Canadian civil aviation testing/certification/permitting requirements). This instrument will be equipped with a multispectral sensor that collects reflectance data from the surface vegetation. These images will provide some of the first high-resolution vegetation maps to help us assess how environmental factors might be controlling the areal coverage of the peat patches. These data will be used alongside satellite-based remote sensing images of the region to help us determine the spatial scales of the peat patches and their potential environmental controls.