Regional Cover Mapping of Tundra Plant Functional Types in Arctic Alaska, circa 2015

Ecosystem maps are foundational tools that support multi-disciplinary study design and applications including wildlife habitat assessment, monitoring, and earth-system modeling. Here we present continuous-field cover maps for tundra plant functional types (PFTs) across ~125,000 km² of Alaska’s North Slope at 30 m resolution. To develop maps, we collected a field-based training dataset using a point-intercept sampling method at 225 plots spanning bioclimatic and geomorphic gradients. We stratified vegetation by nine PFTs (e.g. Low Deciduous Shrub, Dwarf Evergreen Shrub, Sedge, Lichen) and summarized measurements of the PFTs, Open Water, Bare Ground, and Litter using the cover metrics total cover (areal cover including the understory) and top cover (uppermost canopy or ground cover). We then developed 73 spectral predictors derived from Landsat satellite observations (surface reflectance composites for ~15-day periods from May through August) and 5 gridded environmental predictors (e.g., summer temperature, climatological snow-free date) to model cover of PFTs using the random forest data-mining algorithm.

Model performance tended to be best for canopy-forming PFTs, particularly deciduous shrubs. Our assessment of predictor importance indicated that models for low-statured PFTs was improved through the use of seasonal composites from early and late in the growing season, particularly when similar PFTs were aggregated together (e.g., Low & Tall Deciduous Shrub, Herbaceous).

Continuous-field maps have many advantages over traditional thematic maps and the methods described here are well-suited to support periodic map updates in tandem with future field and Landsat observations.

A link to a journal article detailing this product in Remote Sensing: Special Issue Remote Sensing of Arctic Tundra, is provided below.

Data and Resources

Additional Info

Field Value
ISO Topics biota
Other Contacts Matthew J. Macander (Email:, Phone: 9074556777)
Primary Organization ABR, Inc.
Funding Organizations Shell Exploration and Production Company
Other Organizations Shell Exploration and Production Company
Organization Types Industry and Consultants
Geo-keywords North Slope
Created February 12, 2016, 00:11 (AKST)
Last Updated February 11, 2022, 09:18 (AKST)