Perennial snowfields are an important component of Arctic National Parks in Alaska. With pronounced warming, the Arctic is shifting rapidly, and these individually small, but widespread features of the cryosphere are retreating quickly. Reductions in extent have been observed in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve in the central Brooks Range. The process of perennial snowfield retreat is the focus of this study because they are important ecosystems for an array of wildlife, influence hydrology, and have implications for cultural resource management.
To study extent changes in snowfields, a geographic extent map was created in 2015. The process of refining this map is ongoing, as it utilizes multiple satellite imagery data sets at several spatial resolutions, field data, and wildlife movement data. Satellite imagery evaluation includes classification of images using spectral analysis. Ground field surveys were conducted in 2015 and 2016, along with a helicopter-based survey in 2015. Several field surveys are also planned for 2017. Also, this project involves a substantial science education and outreach component in rural Alaska. Work is ongoing to quantify past extents and model future changes in these perennial snowfields, to address the needs of an interdisciplinary group of scientists and local stakeholders interested in wildlife, hydrology, and cultural resources.
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