Canada’s 42 national parks and national park reserves cover an area of almost 245,000 km2. About 85 percent of this area lies in a northern or arctic environment.
Managing the ecological integrity of arctic parks presents a challenge. Access is limited due to the short summer period, inclement weather conditions, and an almost non-existent road system. Ecosystems are constantly changing due to ecological, climatic and human influences.
In order to better monitor and assess the impact of these changes over such a large area, Parks Canada is exploring the use of satellite observation technologies in a four-year project called ParkSPACE.
For this project, Parks Canada (PC) is working with Natural Resources Canada’s Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The aim is to develop and apply remote sensing technologies for monitoring of national park conditions.
Four parks have been selected to develop and test the remote sensing protocols in the north: Ivvavik (Yukon), Wapusk (Manitoba), Sirmilik (Nunavut) and Torngat Mountains (Labrador).
How it works
Previously, monitoring of ecological integrity was carried out using conventional field studies and aerial photographs. Satellite remote sensing can cost-effectively complement field studies to help improve the understanding of northern ecosystems.
In a satellite image, each pixel represents a small footprint on the landscape. Researchers first locate pixels in the image with similar reflectance properties and connect them with land cover, soil, permafrost, wetlands and vegetation characteristics measured on the ground. The map produced is taken into the field, where is it compared against actual ground conditions, ensuring that it accurately represents the ecosystem changes identified.
Observing ecological change over time
According to Jean Poitevin, project manager of ParkSPACE, “Northern and Arctic parks offer a unique natural laboratory to follow the evolution of ecosystems within a context of climatic changes and adaptations.”
Using images taken at different periods over several decades, researchers can monitor seasonal and yearly changes in vegetation conditions. “This aids in understanding the migration patterns of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in Ivvavik Park, says Wenjun Chen, senior remote sensing researcher working on ParkSPACE. The same goes for mapping changes in polar bear habitat with regard to lichen peat plateau and permafrost distributions in Wapusk Park.”
Protecting this vast territory enables, amongst other things, the preservation of breeding areas for polar bears, caribou and muskox and the maintenance of exceptional landscapes.
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