Arctic and Western Alaska Landscape Change Projects


Principal Investigator: Bob Bolton

Climate change is placing important shorebird and waterfowl habitat at risk in arctic and western Alaska. The low-lying landscape of the Alaska Arctic Coastal Plain and the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta may undergo massive changes due to permafrost degradation in a warming climate.

To conserve the important ecological services that the plant and wildlife communities of the Alaska Coastal Plain and Yukon Kuskokwim Delta serve, management strategies must be based on both current landscape conditions and projected changes. The AK CASC will further efforts initiated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Integrated Ecosystem Modeling for Alaska and Northwest Canada projects to better understand how vulnerable this habitat is to future warming and which areas are most susceptible to change. The team will create high-resolution landcover maps of the region and climate scenario simulation models to aid resource managers and decision-makers in planning for the future.

Why are we doing this?

As the climate warms, resource managers need more precise tools to assess how sensitive the landscapes of arctic and western Alaska may be to change so that they may prepare appropriate conservation strategies.  The low-lying landscape mosaics of the Alaska Arctic Coastal Plain and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta provide essential habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl. This region is also at risk of massive change, as underlying permafrost thaws in response to a warming climate. To conserve ecosystem services associated with the biological richness of this area, management strategies need to include projected changes in landscape composition.


We will use the Alaska Thermokarst Model and repeated imagery analysis to describe the mechanisms of landcover change. The ATM will then simulate landscape dynamics through the end of the 21st century under six different climate scenarios to determine which areas are most susceptible to change. These simulations will then be used as input for habitat models used by resource managers.

End products

For the Alaskan Arctic Coastal Plain and the Yukon-Kuskokwim  Delta, this project will provide:

  • Current high-resolution (30 m2) land cover maps
  • A predictive model of landscape change due to thermokarst
  • Maps (1000 m2) of simulated landscape change due to thermokarst for 2000-2100
  • Suitability and vulnerability maps (1000 m2) of shorebird and waterfowl habitat in response to landscape change


US Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM, Alaska Science Center/USGS