. Scientific Frontline: Ural Scientists Assessed How Vegetation Changes in the Mountains

Monday, December 25, 2023

Ural Scientists Assessed How Vegetation Changes in the Mountains

As scientists explain, the woody vegetation of high mountains is a sensitive indicator of climate change.
 Photo Credit: Pavel Yelfimov

Specialists of the Ural Carbon test site, researchers from the Ural Federal University (UrFU) with colleagues from the Ural State Forestry Technical University, have proposed a methodology for automated mapping of high mountain woody vegetation. The methodology is based on the comparison of data from archival aerial images and modern satellite images, RIA Novosti reported. The work of researchers will help to objectively assess the peculiarities of the appearance of new trees on unforested territory depending on the influence of the environment. The description of the methodology is published in the journal Forests.

"Woody vegetation of high mountains, near its upper limit of growth, is a sensitive indicator of climate change. Therefore, mountain ranges in different regions of the Earth are considered as areas for studying the early vegetation response to regional climate change. The aim of our work was twofold. The first part involves demonstrating an effective method of automated mapping of vegetation cover units: forest, sparse woodland, open stand, and tundra with freestanding trees developed by us, and to analyze changes occurring in plant communities under the conditions of modern climate warming near the upper limit of tree growth. The second part includes evaluating the efficiency of the method on the example of assessing the expansion of Siberian larch into mountain tundra in the Polar Urals over the past 50 years," explains Valery Fomin, Vice-Rector for Research and Innovation at Ural State Forestry Technical University and researcher at UrFU.

The method proposed by the scientists makes it possible to eliminate the subjectivity of quantitative assessments of tree vegetation dynamics and to make correct comparisons of how and at what rate the overgrowth of territories with trees occurs in different regions of the Earth.

"The unevenness of sun heating of slopes, peculiarities of the hydrological regime of the studied territory are important factors that influence the formation of more or less favorable conditions for the growth of woody plants. The action of these factors creates conditions that determine the paths of tree spread to the mountain tundra," says Valery Fomin.

According to the specialist, areas with insufficient or excessive snow accumulation are formed as a result of snow redistribution over the territory depending on wind speed, terrain features and other obstacles. The former can often lead to the death of young plants due to exposure to low temperatures due to the lack of protection in the form of a snow blanket, while the latter can lead to a shortened growing season in such areas.

"Our approach, in addition to a high level of automation and objectivity, also allows us to localize areas on the map with different intensity of transformation of one community into another. We use modern methods of processing, data analysis and modeling in a geographic information system," Fomin explains.

The method created by the scientists can help other researchers of high-mountain vegetation to assess changes that have occurred over decades in their areas. The data can be correctly compared with the results of studies in other regions.

Reference: Carbon test sites are areas with the most typical ecosystems for a particular region, selected for studying the balance of climatic active gases. The Ural-Carbon Carbon Test Site is represented by taiga forests, as forest lands make up 70% of the territory of the Sverdlovsk region, and taiga is one of the most significant reservoirs of carbon runoff from the atmosphere due to photosynthesis and its long-term storage. The research sites are the UrFU Kourovka Astronomical Observatory and the Ural Educational and Experimental Forestry of the Ural State Forestry University. The project also involves the Ural State Agrarian University, the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Industrial Ecology of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Botanical Garden of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

Published in journalForests

Source/CreditUral Federal University

Reference Number: en122523_01

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