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Research in Geography and Planning

Researchers in Queen's Department of Geography and Planning have a long history of discovery and innovation that has shaped our knowledge of Earth’s places, societies, environments, and landscapes. We bridge the social sciences and humanities with the natural sciences to address some of our world's most complex problems, including issues related to social justice, climate change and planning for healthy communities.

Studying Arctic tundra and boreal forest ecosystems

Laboratory for Remote Sensing of Earth and Environmental Systems (LaRSEES)

Research focus

Our research focuses on the estimation and mapping of biophysical variables for northern terrestrial landscapes.

We model biophysical variables at multiple scales across a latitudinal gradient (~63°-77°N) for the Canadian Arctic, serving as a temperature gradient of approximate 10°C for mean-July temperatures - a surrogate for a warming climate.

We carry out this research at:

  • Cape Bounty, Melville Island (75ºN)
  • Sanagak Lake, Boothia Peninsula (71ºN), and
  • Apex River, Baffin Island (63ºN), Nunavut


Arctic tundra and boreal forest environments account for a large proportion of Canada's land surface and are important systems within the context of global climate change research. These northern environments are thought to be particularly sensitive to changes in climate, yet it remains unclear as to how these environments will respond. It is expected that any alterations in arctic tundra and boreal forest ecosystem function associated with increased temperatures will be expressed through shifts in plant phenology (i.e., vegetation growth patterns with season), species composition, and abundance. Remote sensing provides a means for monitoring these shifts, with the potential to characterize biophysical variables that control carbon fluxes over landscapes or regions.

In addition to the obvious impacts of increasing air temperatures, there are a number of factors that serve as controls on vegetation growth in the Canadian Arctic, including soil moisture, nutrient availability, soil type and topography/micro-topography, some of which are also impacted by warming temperatures.

The variability and distribution of these environmental controls contribute to a highly heterogeneous vegetation cover. High spatial resolution remote sensing provides an opportunity to estimate and monitor this variability, with the potential to quantify biophysical variables that control carbon fluxes over large areas. However, detailed in situ studies are required for calibration and validation of appropriate remote sensing models to estimate these variables.

Estimating biophysical variables for forested ecosystems represents a three-dimensional problem given the structural components of a forest ecosystem are distributed vertically as well as horizontally.

Our current emphasis in the forest sector is on the modelling of biophysical variables (e.g. volume, biomass) and services (habitat suitability) for forest ecosystems using airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR). LiDAR captures three-dimensional information on forest structure (e.g., canopy height) and provides significant potential for volume and biomass estimation using forest allometry.

Analysis and development of LiDAR height and density metrics is being conducted to determine how three-dimensional surfaces of the forest canopy and terrain can be created and utilized to predict the structural (and functional) nature of forest stands.

We are currently involved in a national research program examining the modelling of forest biophysical variables as well as the transferability of these models across different forested environments.

Dr. Paul Treitz

Professor and Interim Head
Queen's Department of Geography and Planning

Email: paul.treitz@queensu.ca

Learn more about Dr. Paul Treitz

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Partners and Supporters

LaRSEES is extremely grateful for the significant financial and logistical support that has been provided to our group over the past 20 years in order to allow us the resources and opportunities to pursue our research interests.

LaRSEES was established in 2000, thanks to the financial support of the Federal Government's CFI – Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Provincial Government's Ontario Research Fund, and the Queen’s University Research Initiation Grant.

Research over the years has been supported by National Centres of Excellence (e.g., GEOIDE, ArcticNet), Ontario Centres of Excellence (CRESTech), and various NSERC Strategic Grants (e.g., IPY), Collaborative Research Development Grants (e.g., AWARE) and Discovery Grants (and others).

There are a host of partners (e.g., NRCan, OMNRF, PRF) and collaborators (e.g., Scott Lamoureux, Melissa Lafreniere, Neal Scott, Ryan Danby, Nicholas Coops, Ross Hill, and others) that have made the breadth and depth of our research possible.

The Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP) has provide extensive logistical support for our Arctic research over the years.

Students have also benefited from financial support through the Northern Studies Training Program (NSTP), the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, NSERC, and Queen’s.

I also want to thank: (i) the Faculty of Forest Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå (Håkan Olsson, Heather Reese and others); (ii) the Arctic Centre at Umea University (Arcum), Umeå (Peter Sköld); and the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg (Heather Reese, Robert Björk, Mats Björkman) for hosting me during sabbaticals. Their accommodation and support are greatly appreciated.