The purpose of this project is to provide better information to industry and regulatory agencies regarding the likely locations of polar bear dens. This project integrates snow physics, high-resolution digital elevation data, and bear biology to produce more refined and accurate maps predicting suitable polar bear den habitat than are currently available. The work consists of data gathering, consultation between snow and bear scientists, modeling, and sensitivity studies to understand the various factors influencing den location and evolution along the Beaufort Coast.
The proposed work is intended to refine current methods of identifying polar bear denning sites by incorporating higher-resolution topographic data (obtained from LiDAR data collections) and applying an existing model of blowing and drifting snow deposition (SnowModel; Liston and Elder, 2006a) to more accurately predict the presence, timing, and evolution of snowdrifts suitable for bear dens. SnowModel is a numerical model that mimics the physical interaction of snow, wind, topography, and land cover, to determine when, how far, and how much snow is transported and deposited in response to topographic and land-cover variations. SnowModel has been well tested throughout the Arctic, and was originally developed for Arctic Alaska applications. Application of these tools will allow us to define the time-evolution and locations of potential bear denning sites, and the controlling factors that determine key polar bear denning characteristics.
The project is considered a “proof-of-concept” investigation to test whether significant improvement over current models is achievable. If the results are promising, an implementation phase will require further investment in a decision-support tool that ingests available topographic and weather data, and provides an output map of high-probability den locations. Ultimately, the success of this project resulted in the desktop application under Arctic LCC Project 2015-01.
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