Assessment of Spatio-Temporal Landscape Changes from VHR Images in Three Different Permafrost Areas in the Western Russian Arctic


Our study highlights the usefulness of very high resolution (VHR) images to detect various types of disturbances over permafrost areas using three example regions in different permafrost zones. The study focuses on detecting subtle changes in land cover classes, thermokarst water bodies, river dynamics, retrogressive thaw slumps (RTS) and infrastructure in the Yamal Peninsula, Urengoy and Pechora regions. Very high-resolution optical imagery (sub-meter) derived from WorldView, QuickBird and GeoEye in conjunction with declassified Corona images were involved in the analyses. The comparison of very high-resolution images acquired in 2003/2004 and 2016/2017 indicates a pronounced increase in the extent of tundra and a slight increase of land covered by water. The number of water bodies increased in all three regions, especially in discontinuous permafrost, where 14.86% of new lakes and ponds were initiated between 2003 and 2017. The analysis of the evolution of two river channels in Yamal and Urengoy indicates the dominance of erosion during the last two decades. An increase of both rivers’ lengths and a significant widening of the river channels were also observed. The number and total surface of RTS in the Yamal Peninsula strongly increased between 2004 and 2016. A mean annual headwall retreat rate of 1.86 m/year was calculated. Extensive networks of infrastructure occurred in the Yamal Peninsula in the last two decades, stimulating the initiation of new thermokarst features. The significant warming and seasonal variations of the hydrologic cycle, in particular, increased snow water equivalent acted in favor of deepening of the active layer; thus, an increasing number of thermokarst lake formations.
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