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Researchers publish Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map


First map of an entire global biome at useable level of detail

Researchers publish vegetation map of the Arctic Tundra Biome

Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB) researcher Donald (Skip) Walker and an international team of Arctic vegetation scientists have published the Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map (CAVM) – the first map of an entire global biome at such a level of detail.

The 11-year CAVM project, directed by Walker, who also heads IAB’s Alaska Geobotany Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, involved vegetation scientists representing the six countries of the Arctic - Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United States - to map the vegetation and associated characteristics of the circumpolar region, using a common base map.

"A vegetation map of the Arctic is especially needed now because the Arctic is increasingly recognized as a single geoecosystem with a common set of cultural, political, economic, and ecological issues. Accelerated land-use change and climate change in the Arctic made the effort more urgent," Walker said.

The base map is a false-color infrared image created from Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) satellite data. The map covers the Arctic bioclimate subzone - the region north of the Arctic tree line, with an arctic climate, arctic flora, and tundra vegetation. The map can be viewed on the Web at

The 3-foot by 4-foot, waterproof, tear-proof, field-work-worthy, synthetic-paper map is as beautiful as it is useful. The front of the map shows the circumpolar Arctic color-coded according to the outward appearance of the vegetation and includes color photographs of the various units. The back of the map includes detailed vegetative descriptions, a brief history of the map’s origin, and maps of the bioclimate subzones, floristic provinces, landscapes, percent lake cover, substrate pH, and plant biomass.

Previous maps presented a "disjointed picture of Arctic vegetation, because they were produced using a wide variety of national mapping traditions, legend systems, and map scales," Walker said. The CAVM "is the first to cover the entire Arctic at a reasonable level of detail using a common legend approach. In fact, it is the first map of an entire global biome at such a level of detail."

"I think vegetation scientists and people involved in global (climate) change will be the most excited" about the map, Stephen S. Talbot, research scientist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska and member of the CAVM mapping team, said.

"From a conservation perspective, although not so much in Alaska where we have established set-aside lands, but for other countries, especially Russia, this (map) is really critical for selecting areas based on vegetation to be set aside as critical areas," Talbot said.

"For me, one of the important things is that this (map) can be used as an important component of high school education, a tool for students," Talbot said. Students in Kotzebue can use the map to see how their environment is similar to or different from other Arctic environments. "It gives them a chance to see where they fit into the bigger picture."

The CAVM project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Marie Gilbert | EurekAlert!
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