Detecting Alpine Treeline Dynamics in the Western United States under Climate Change

Authors: Chenyang Wei*, University At Buffalo, Adam Michael Wilson, University at Buffalo
Topics: Environmental Science, Remote Sensing, Mountain Environments
Keywords: Ecology, climate change, forestry, remote sensing, treeline, environmental science
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Studio 1, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Changing climatic conditions over last century have significantly affected global biological systems, especially in high-elevation areas. As a sensitive monitor of the recent climate change, the upper altitudinal boundary of forests in mountain areas, or the so-called “alpine treeline”, is expected to be driven upslope worldwide, which could reduce local biodiversity and modify ecosystem functioning. While many studies have been performed on alpine treelines, most were carried out at single or multiple isolated study sites and limited by the subjectivity of human visual interpretation. There are critically important questions about the spatiotemporal dynamics of treeline at regional scales. In this study, alpine treelines were identified in the western U.S. over the past thirty-four years using high-resolution satellite images. The elevation of ca. 56.23% detected treelines has increased at an average speed of ca. 0.1021m/year. In total, the treeline elevation has increased by ca. 3.4714m during this period. Additionally, I observed spatial variability in the dynamics of treeline elevation. For example, the average elevation trends in some coastal or high latitudinal mountain ranges were higher than other areas. The application of remote sensing technology advances our understanding of alpine treeline dynamics under climate change. This research fills critical gaps in our knowledge of how climate has affected mountain environments in the western U.S. The concepts and methodologies are broadly applicable and transferable to understanding vegetation responses and associated ecological effects in other systems elsewhere with a changing climate.

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