Spatio-Temporal Vegetation Change as related to terrain factors at two Glacier Forefronts, Glacier National Park, Montana

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Virginia Tech

Glacier retreat is considered a clear sign of global climate change. Although a rich body of work has documented glacial response to climate warming trends, comparatively little research has assessed vegetation change in recently deglaciated areas. In this study, we assess vegetation change at two glacier forefronts in Glacier National Park, Montana, through remote sensing analysis, fieldwork validation, and statistical modelling. The research objectives were to: 1) quantify the spatial and temporal patterns of landcover change of five classes"ice, rock, tree, shrub, and herbaceous at the two glacier forefronts in Glacier National Park, and 2) determine the role of selected biophysical terrain factors (elevation, slope, aspect, solar radiation, flow accumulation, TWI, and geology) on vegetation change at the deglaciated areas. Landsat imagery of the study locations in 1991, 2003, and 2015 were classified and validated using ground truth points and visual interpretation for accuracy. Overall accuracies were above 75% for all classified images. To identify biophysical correlates of change, we used generalized linear mixed models with non-vegetated surfaces to vegetation (code=1) or stable non-vegetation class (code=0) as a binary response variable. Results revealed elevation, slope, TWI, geology, and aspect to be associated with increased vegetation over time at Jackson Glacier forefront, whereas elevation, slope, solar radiation, and geology were significant at Grinnell Glacier forefront. New case studies on vegetation change in recently deglaciated regions can deepen our knowledge about how glacier retreat at local scales results in recharged ecosystem dynamics.

Physical geography, Glacier retreat, Vegetation change, Glacier National Park