Research database

Project information
Project title
COAT – Climate-ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra
Project leader
Rolf Ims, UiT
  • Leader: Rolf A. Ims, UiT
  • Co-leader: Audun Stien, NINA
  • 22 participants from UiT, NINA, NP, UNIS and

Terrestrial, Theme: Observation systems for climate effects

Funding Source
Fram Centre, KD and DN
Summary of Results

During 2012 a draft science plan for COAT has been completed based on funding from Ministry of Education and Science (KD) and the University of Tromsø (UiT). The present report concerns activities devoted to perform field validations of certain elements of the plan with respect to the monitoring design (A) and to establish new methods of monitoring herbivores and predators (B).

A) Validation of the large-scale design for sampling food web module and climate parameters in COAT


The Climate-ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra (COAT) is a planned system for tundra ecosystem monitoring in high-arctic Svalbard and low-arctic Varanger, of which the latter area is relevant for this report. COAT will approach ecosystem monitoring at several spatial and temporal scales. As part of the COAT Draft Science plan, a large-scale sampling design initially including 20 river systems is planned for in the low-arctic focal ecosystems in the Varanger region in eastern Finnmark (Varanger Peninsula and Ifjordfjellet). In 2012 field campaign was performed in order to validate which of these candidate river systems already hold the required monitoring targets or have potential to hold such in the near future. The main focus in the 2012 field survey was to collect data at the level of river systems and of target zones within river systems. These data will be used to refine the large-scale sampling design. In particular we considered extent and characteristics of zones within river systems that are suitable for the following monitoring targets in COAT: i) the tundra-forest ecotone, and ii) tall shrub tundra with meadows and tall shrub patches.

Implementation and results

A field protocol was written by researchers in the COAT planning group composed of researchers from UiT and NINA. In short, the field work covered river systems structured in four areas within the Varanger region that have contrasting climate and reindeer densities. The level of detail needed to take decisions on where to locate monitoring efforts in the large-scale sampling design required registration of relevant monitoring targets by foot. Hence the length of each river system was surveyed and structured observational data was collected. Within each of the 20 river systems frequency of habitats suitable for the relevant monitoring targets was registered along a lowland-high altitude gradient. In selected sections within a river system more detailed registrations of selected plant communities were made. We also collected ground validation data for high-resolution satellite images focusing particularly on vegetation strata that have previously shown to be challenging to differentiate with remote sensed techniques. Field work was conducted during three weeks in late July-August by 6 teams, all consisting of one researcher or an experienced field leader and one assistant. Time use in the field per river systems ranged from 1-5 days, and more than 250 km of river length was registered. One of the initially included 20 rivers was discarded during field work and one was added. Data is presently summarized to form the basis for the final selection of river systems for the final revised version of the COAT science plan.

Rolf Ims - COAT 2013 

Figure. Examples of different riparian vegetation states encountered during the COAT field validation campaign at Varanger Peninsula summer 2012.


B) Census methods small mammal herbivore and predators

with photo-techniques


Small rodents such as lemmings and voles are key-stone herbivores in many arctic tundra ecosystems and must therefore be included as focal targets in monitoring programs. Sampling of rodents (and in particular lemming) to determine key parameters as abundance or population density has traditionally relied on destructive methods such as snap trapping. COAT will adhere to the principle of minimizing environmental footprint of the program’s monitoring activities and therefor aims to develop new efficient and non-destructive sampling methods. For this purpose we have during 2012 worked on developing a camera trap for monitoring distribution and abundance of lemmings and their mustelid predators. We believe that such camera traps can open entirely new avenues for research on tundra rodents and their interactions with biotic (food plants and predators) and the abiotic environment (snow).

Implementation and results

In collaboration with the US company Reconyx we have developed a motion trigged camera that can be deployed in small portable metal tunnels in natural tundra habitats. We have presently solved initial problem motions sensors detected by means of laboratory trials at UiT, which showed that sensors were to slow and had too narrow ranges. Also appropriate wide-angle lenses for the camera as well a practical design for the metal tube has been developed. We have purchased a batch of cameras that will be subject field test during the next year.

Published Results/Planned Publications

Henden, J.A., Ims, R.A., Yoccoz, N.G. and Schmidt, N.M. 2012. Understanding long term changes in tundra food webs: the challenge of integrating study designs and models. Presentation on Long-term changes in Arctic Tundra system, Aarhus, Denmark, November 2012.

Communicated Results

The COAT planning project and its design has been presented in several fora during 2012; for the Norwegian Directorate of Nature Research, the board of Varanger Peninsula National Park, the terrestrial ecosystems expert group of the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), reindeer herding districts at the Varanger Peninsula.

Interdisciplinary Cooperation


Budget in accordance to results

The funding from the Fram Centres terrestrial flagship has been decisive for execution of both main activities of the present project.

Could results from the project be subject for any commercial utilization

a) Part A of the project has allowed us to conduct the field campaign necessary for establishing the spatially extensive monitoring design to be implemented for COAT Varanger peninsula. Part B of the project has allowed us to develop a novel non-destructive sampling method for monitoring small herbivore population dynamics.

b) The method for non-destructively sampling small mammalian herbivores and their predators by means of a dedicated photo-trap is an innovation of the project. We expect this trap to open new avenues for monitoring the dynamics of key-stone tundra herbivores such as lemming in relation to biotic and abiotic factors.