Estéban Hamel Jomphe
Ph.D. student
Department of Applied Geomatics
University of Sherbrooke

Supervised by:

Alexandre Roy (Regular member)

Co-supervised by:

Alexandre Langlois (Regular member)

Esther Lévesque (Regular member)

Research project description

Assessment of vegetation in Peary caribou habitat by remote sensing

Introduction: Peary caribou is an endemic specie of northern Canada that declined rapidly in the last decades. However, classification of vegetation at the scale of Peary caribou habitat remains a challenge, as no uniform nomenclature exists to describe the vegetation for this broad region. The effect of climate changes such as increased temperatures that may lengthen the growing season of vegetation may benefit caribou by reducing the duration of their winter foraging. Conversely, rain-on-snow events followed by cold temperature may increase due to climate warming and can be detrimental to the species by creating a crust of ice that reduce foraging for caribou in winter. Better mapping of vegetation in Peary caribou habitat would improve the knowledge about population dynamics and ameliorate conservation measures in place. Objectives: The main objective of my project is to develop a vegetation mapping product suitable for Peary caribou habitat using remote sensing, particularly through satellite imagery analysis. Automatic classification of vegetation units will also be studied. The project can be divided into three specific objectives: to list and compare vegetation products in the Arctic to assess their suitability for characterizing Peary caribou habitat; to create new vegetation maps better suited for characterizing the evolution of Peary caribou habitat; to assess the effect of global changes on vegetation in Peary caribou habitat, particularly on snow-vegetation interactions. This will be accomplished by the use of open data and software specific to the analysis of satellite imagery. Study sites: The Peary caribou habitat is located in northern Canada in the Arctic Archipelago. Its range includes Banks Island, northwestern Victoria Island, the western and eastern parts of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Prince of Wales Island, Somerset Island and Boothia Island. Material and methods: A validation of open data will be attempted by replicating some of the classifications made by previous studies in the Peary caribou habitat. A comparison of existing vegetation maps will determine the appropriate scale of analysis for classifying vegetation in the Peary caribou habitat. A new mapping product will then be adapted for the Peary caribou habitat. A time series of vegetation maps specific to the Peary caribou will be modelled using satellite imagery. Expected results: The developed products will be tested on existing historical data, allowing the simulation of predictions on the impact of climate warming on the assemblage of plant communities that are important for the Peary caribou.

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