Trends and challenges for remote sensing of the Arctic vegetation

Researchers take a look at what works and what needs to be improved in optical remote sensing of the Arctic tundra

Remote sensing with satellites or drones is becoming more and more important in the field of geoscience. With this approach data from places that are hard or dangerous to monitor from the ground can be collected in a consistent manner. The Arctic is one example of such a scientifically interesting environment that is difficult to monitor. But remote sensing in the Arctic comes with an inherent set of challenges. The short and rapidly advancing growing season, persistent cloud cover as well as the low and complex vegetation canopies provide unique obstacles for proper research.

In an effort lead by Alison Beamish of GFZ section 1.4 “Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics” an international team of researchers has collected data and knowledge about remote sensing in the Artic from studies reaching back more than 15 years. The paper emerged from a workshop at the 2018 International Circumpolar Remote Sensing Symposium hosted by Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) Potsdam. Here are the main conclusions now published in the journal “Remote Sensing of Environment”:

  1. Optical remote sensing of Arctic tundra vegetation benefits from both legacy satellite programs such as Landsat and MODIS as well as emerging technologies such as drones
  2. The majority of research in the last 15 years has focused on long-term productivity trends derived from legacy platforms
  3. Validation of remote sensing derived vegetation properties and trends is lacking due to the logistical challenges of working in the Arctic region
  4. Better knowledge of factors like hydrology, precipitation and snow depth is needed to better understand observed trends
  5. The continuation and comparability of satellite sensors as well as a continued commitment to freely available data are required to compile the temporally dense datasets required to understand rapid Arctic change

“The paper provides a timely review for researchers developing remote sensing hardware and software to sample Arctic tundra vegetation as well as researchers who use these technologies to address scientific questions related to rapid Arctic change”, says Alison Beamish. “By outlining remaining challenges and best practices surrounding optical remote sensing of Arctic tundra vegetation we hope to help inform how and where future research in the field is conducted.” (ph)

Original study:
Beamish et al., 2020. Recent trends and remaining challenges for optical remote sensing of Arctic tundra vegetation: A review and outlook. Remote Sensing of Environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.rse.2020.111872

An Arctic willow (Salix arctica) in bloom on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut in the eastern Canadian High Arctic (Photo: Alison Beamish).

Additional News

DEUQUA Logo mit Mammut und Friedenstaube

DEUQUA 2022 Tagung am GFZ

PAW Logo

Postdoc Appreciation Week Germany

Building, photo taken in winter, Isaac Newton Institute

Simons Scholarship for Dr Monika Korte

Die Verteilung der seismischen Stationen auf einer Karte der Region.

How deeply does Eifel volcanism sleep?

Geomagnetic Field. Space with stars, Earth with animation around

GFZ film among the finalists of the Earth Futures Festival 2022

Earth's radiation belt: High-energy particles modelled around the Earth. The particles are ring-shaped

A new population of particles in the Earth’s radiation belts

[Translate to English:] Die teilnehmenden GFZ Mitarbeiter als Gruppenfoto

2nd proWissen run in Potsdam with successful participation by GFZ employees

The group on the first day of work.

New faces at the GFZ - start of the training year 2022/2023

Forest vs no forest on two sides of a road

Agriculture drives more than 90% of tropical deforestation

Group photo: people on the roof terrace of a house

2nd International Symposium of International Association of Geodesy’s Commission 4…

[Translate to English:] Foto eines Bergs mit darüber gelegter Skizze des geologischen Profils.

How thick should clay be as a host rock for a repository?

White dots of different thicknesses in a hexagonal pattern on a black ground.

Synthesis of hexagonal SiGe semiconductor using high pressure and temperature

Landslide on a slope directly adjacent to a settlement with small houses.

Landslides increasingly threaten the world's urban poor cities

Different coloured liquids mix in an aquarium. A child watches.

Catching up after Corona: "GEOtogether" brings joy for pupils in collaborative…

A woman and a man stand on a stage holding a picture with a coloured map of Türkiye..

Four decades of joint Turkish-German earthquake research

Egon Althaus sitting around a table with colleagues outside on a project

We mourn the death of Egon Althaus (1933-2022)

A dry dam near Capetown, South Africa.

The challenge of unprecedented floods and droughts in risk management

Drawing of a fictional historical submersible.

Eleven short research stays with GFZ participation funded

Drilling platform on Lake Junin with several people on it

Tropical glaciers followed the rhythm of the ice sheet expansion in the northern…

Schematic representation of the VECTOR project: A large arrow with different levels - from the earth's surface to underground.

Improving the exploration efficiency in Europe

Hoby Razafindrakoto

Project from Dr. Razafindrakoto to create a seismological lab in Madagascar wins ARISE…

3D digital Earth at night

Open-Earth-Monitor getting started

The dam of the Steinbach Dam in the Eifel region, cut by flooding but not destroyed.

Flood risk management after the Eifel flood in July 2021

Group picture of the Cermak7 Conference in front of the Museum Barberini in Potsdam

International heat flow conference and workshop in Potsdam

Castor platform in the ocean. The sea is still.

Filling geological gas reservoirs: Causal research in the most important event of induced…

People sit on chairs in a circle in a room.

GFZ PhD Days

Jeffrey Perez in front of the Logo of the meeting

Two GFZ Researchers participate in the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Young woman standing with certificate in hand in a hall in front of the lettering EAGE

Best Paper Award for Evgeniia Martuganova

Four persons are holding a large golden key, standing in front of a house

Housing for visiting scientists


Favoring curiosity-driven research of the solid earth

back to top of main content