Terrestrial Ecosystems Collaboration Team

Developing a landscape-scale understanding of the drivers and impacts of terrestrial ecosystem change.

Scope of activities

Photo by Regina Brinker (PolarTREC 2014), Courtesy of ARCUS

The Arctic is experiencing rapid, profound changes to its physical environment, but it is the responses of regional ecosystems to these changes that will largely determine their impacts on the people living and working in the Arctic.  Terrestrial ecosystems also feedback on, and in many cases amplify, variation and change in the physical environment.  As such, improving our understanding of terrestrial ecosystems is critical for meeting the overarching IARPC goals of contributing to a prosperous, sustainable, and healthy Arctic.  This better understanding of terrestrial ecosystems cannot be obtained without coordinated, multidisciplinary approaches involving numerous Federal agencies and both domestic and international collaborators.


Team leaders

Jeremy Littell
Alaska Climate Science Center

Elizabeth Hoy
NASA Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Office, Global Science and Technology, Inc.

Elizabeth Powers
United States Geological Survey

Performance elements from the Arctic research plan

7.1 Improve understanding of and ability to model feedbacks and interactions among the large-scale processes causing change (climate, natural disturbances, and human-caused perturbations) and the responses of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems.

  • 7.1.1 Carry out and synthesize results from field-based research and monitoring needed to improve understanding of important ecosystem processes and feedbacks, including their responses to environmental changes.
  • 7.1.2 Carry out and synthesize research on and monitoring of the disturbance processes responsible for changes to key landscapes, including fire, warming permafrost, insects and pathogens, and human activities.
  • 7.1.3 Facilitate and harmonize the production, integration, and distribution of key geospatial datasets from remotely-sensed and other data sources that are needed for monitoring key ecosystem processes and landscape changes and for model initialization, calibration, and validation.
  • 7.1.4 Improve existing and develop advanced models for integrating climate, disturbance, above- and below-ground dynamics and interactions and feedbacks to characterize and predict Arctic landscape and ecosystem change.

7.2 Advance understanding of how changes to ecosystems alter animal and plant populations and their habitats and subsistence activities that depend on them.

  • 7.2.1 Coordinate the development of maps from remotely-sensed data and synthesize available data to document changing plant, fish, and terrestrial animal populations and their habitats.
  • 7.2.2 Compare trends in aquatic and terrestrial animal populations and movements with changing patterns of vegetation cover, lake, pond, and wetland extent and characteristics to determine whether and how shifting habitats are influencing animal behaviors and population dynamics.
  • 7.2.3 Incorporate scientific observations and the perspectives of IK and/or LK knowledge holders into assessments of how changing Arctic ecosystems, flora, and fauna are affecting important subsistence activities, lifestyles, and well-being of northern residents.

7.3 Evaluate how changes in fire activity are impacting rural and urban communities, and atmospheric emissions and carbon budgets and other feedbacks to climate.

  • 7.3.1 Evaluate how changing fire regimes have and are likely to impact northern communities, via impacts to infrastructure, health, and subsistence opportunities.
  • 7.3.2 Coordinate research on the observations, geospatial dataset generation, and model improvement needed to estimate emissions from wildland fires and the potential for those emissions to affect atmospheric carbon budgets and climate feedbacks.


Photo by Regina Brinker (PolarTREC 2014), Courtesy of ARCUS

Scientific Achievements

NASA’s ABoVE Science Team is coordinating research funded by other government and non-government organizations in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, in particular researchers from the DOE and DOI, NOAA, the U.S. Forest Service, and the State of Alaska, and those funded by NSF, and in Canada researchers funded by The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, Polar Knowledge Canada, and the Governments of Yukon and the Northwest Territories. A number of synthesis activities based on results from previous and ongoing research have been initiated through ABoVE during the past year, including a synthesis and analysis of CO2 and CH4 fluxes (Performance Element 7.1.1) in Arctic and boreal ecosystems, identifying knowledge and data gaps in snow data sets and observations (Performance Element 7.2.1), assessment of active layer conditions, including active layer depth and soil moisture, and their spatial heterogeneity (Performance Element 7.1.1), a community assessment of recent changes in boreal-arctic land surface hydrology, including examining and comparing a diversity of multi-scale remote sensing and ground observations representing key hydrological parameters to determine regional trends and associated gaps and uncertainties in the surface water budget (Performance Element 7.1.1), a synthesis activity focused on both the response of wildlife and the availability of ecosystem services to productivity changes (i.e. greening and browning trends) in Arctic and Boreal regions (Performance Element 7.2.1), a community assessment of active layer conditions, including active layer depth and soil moisture, and their spatial heterogeneity as represented by different types of measurements at different spatial scales, ranging from local ground measurements to landscape and regional scale observations from airborne and satellite remote sensing (Performance Element 7.1.1), a synthesis of research from field sites on factors controlling tree regeneration after fires (Performance Element 7.1.1), a synthesis of field data from over 900 plots to determine factors controlling carbon consumed during and emissions released by fires in boreal and Arctic ecosystems (Performance Element 7.3.2).

Collaborations Between Federal Agencies and the Research Community

The development of the TECT Year 1 implementation plan, establishment of the Fire Working Group, and broader interactions among TECT members led directly to the development of a new effort aimed at developing fire indices for use in operational fire danger prediction, as well as assessments of future fire risk. This effort directly addresses Performance Elements 7.1.2 and 7.3.1, while also furthering progress on several Alaska Fire Research Needs as developed by the Fire Research Development and Application Committee of the Alaska Wildland Fire Coordinating Group. The research itself is being led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with funding provided by the USGS. Through its strong connections to the Alaska Fire Science Consortium, the project will provide products and services to numerous Federal agencies including NOAA, the BLM, NPS, and the State of Alaska. 

Stakeholder Engagement

Federal agencies were able to take several steps that will assist TECT in meeting engagement-related goals. For example, the USFWS and USGS partnered to provide an additional two years of funding to support a full-time communications and outreach specialist concentrated on community adaptation. Likewise, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and USGS Alaska Climate Science Center partnered on a new effort to hire a Tribal Climate Liaison for the Alaska Region. The State of Alaska also reaffirmed its commitment to the Alaska Climate Change Executive Round Table, a group of senior-level agency leaders focused on climate change impacts, during this fiscal year. While FY2017 presented many challenges on this front, these developments bode well for significant progress to be made in the coming year.

The TECT participated in a joint meeting with the Atmosphere and Health and Well -being teams on air quality issues associated with wildfire smoke. Following directly on that, the TECT, in conjunction with the wildfires sub-team, convened a discussion among researchers focused on Alaskan wildfire and smoke emissions research with the goal of describing the scientific limitations for current operational forecasting and future projections of air quality impacts of smoke from fires. The tentative outcome of these discussions is a commitment to develop a synthetic description of research needs and relevant products for resource managers.

Plans for 2018

TECT leadership plans to continue aligning communication and collaboration with parallel activities associated with ABoVE and DOI/USGS work in the region and to attempt alternate approaches to continuing previous engagement with the USFWS Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) and Subsistence Advisory Panels. The emergence of Adapt Alaska from previous coastal resilience workshops may also provide a new forum for engaging stakeholders in 2018. On the research side, coordination among interested stakeholders across IARPC teams on the wildfire smoke issue has been fruitful for discussion, so team leadership plans to continue to seek opportunities for multi-disciplinary work that has decision or management relevance in the Arctic Region.

2017 Performance Element Reporting Log

2017 Terrestrial Ecosystems Collaboration Team Annual Report

2018 Performance Element Reporting Log

2018 Terrestrial Ecosystems Collaboration Team Annual Report

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