Green canopies in the urban Russian Arctic

The majority of residents in cities in the Russian Arctic are not indigenous to the area (approx 95%), mostly migrating from the south and west. They are not used to Arctic ecosystems and the Arctic climate with lower temperatures, permafrost, less rich soil and having to adapt to differing light with polar days and nights. The researchers wanted to find out more about urban vegetation and attitudes towards greener urban infrastructure, by investigating Nadym, a small city in the Russian Arctic.

They investigated the species distribution and impact of trees in Nadym using a combination of remote sensing analysis, geobotanical observations, and sociological analysis including interviewing locals. Trees provide a range of ecosystem services to human and non human residents and visitors. They are also helpful for monitoring of climate conditions, being affected by competition for light availability at different times of the year.

Nadym became a base for workers on oil and gas fields in 1967. It is about 100km south of the Arctic circle, approximately 185 km2 with an industrial zone, airport and the river Nadym. The study covered 8.5 km2of the most populated areas of the city, adjacent to the industrial zone.

To understand the tree distribution, they used a variety of satellite images and data including the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), using additional classification and visual filtering to improve the accuracy. They used this to create a formula for how ‘green’ each of the micro districts were in terms of urban vegetation.

They then physically mapped the vegetation along each street, alley etc and found 2954 trees and shrubs, using an identification guide created by V.A. Glazunov and Yu.P. Khlonov. They assessed the health of each specimen by analysing the type, height, diameter, condition of bark, foliage, incidence of pests and other features. Finally, they interviewed 15 women and 14 men aged between 30 and 70 to understand why these species had been planted.

They found native species native vegetation of sparse larch-birch forests, Siberian pine, some spruce and cedar but also some willows and conifers. The volumes were much lower near the industrial zone, higher residential buildings but greener in large parks or nearer the city borders. Tree health was mixed including incidences of Siberian ash disease, conifer fungal disease but some health conditions believed to have been caused by human presence nearby such as waste / litter.

The satellite data showed a 34% decrease in overall vegetation across the whole city from 425.71 ha – 280.1 ha between 1968 to 2021. Heavy construction took place between 1981 – 1990 where residents remember large volumes of sand across the city. Residents were encouraged to plant trees in a 1986 scheme across the city.

However the geobotanical survey uncovered species which were not visible in the satellite data. There is also a decrease in condition of healthy trees and shrubs between 2015 – 2021. Residents have also brought in non-native species and planted them next to their buildings. Interviewees perceive trees as essential part of green spaces in their urban environment.

The researchers recommend additional measures to preserve and improve the quality of native species. Improved remote sensing methods will help with additional vegetation detection. They recommend using the mixed methodology to evaluate other cities in the Russian Arctic.

Photo of an area of Nadymsky in Russian Arctic with the river and forest
Nadymsky district

Sizov O, Fedorov R, Pechkina Y, Kuklina V, Michugin M, Soromotin A. Urban Trees in the Arctic City: Case of Nadym. Land. 2022; 11(4):531.

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