Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Erosion doubles along part of Alaska’s Arctic coast: cultural and historical sites lost

US Geological Survey: Coastal erosion has more than doubled in Alaska - up to 45 feet per year - in a 5-year period between 2002 and 2007 along a 40-mile stretch of the Beaufort Sea. The U.S. Geological Survey-led study reveals that average annual erosion rates along this part of the Beaufort Sea climbed from historical levels of about 20 feet per year between the mid-1950s and late-1970s, to 28 feet per year between the late-1970s and early 2000s, to a rate of 45 feet per year between 2002 and 2007. The study was published in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

USGS scientist and lead author Benjamin Jones cautioned that it is possible that the recent patterns documented in their study may represent a short-term episode of enhanced erosion. However, they may well represent the future pattern of coastline erosion in the Arctic. "Erosion of coastlines is a natural process, and this segment of coastline has historically eroded at some of the highest rates in the circum-Arctic, so the changes occurring on this open-ocean coast might not be occurring in other Arctic coastal settings," said Jones.

The authors proposed that these recent shifts in the rate and pattern of land loss along this coastline segment are potentially a result of changing arctic conditions, including declining sea ice extent, increasing summertime sea-surface temperature, rising sea level, and increases in storm power and corresponding wave action.

"Taken together, these factors may be leading to a new era in ocean-land interactions that seem to be repositioning and reshaping the Arctic coastline," wrote Jones and his colleagues. "And any increases in the current rates of coastal retreat will have further ramifications on Arctic landscapes - including losses in freshwater and terrestrial wildlife habitats, and in disappearing cultural sites, as well as adversely impacting coastal villages and towns. In addition, oil test wells are threatened."…

Three polar bears on the Beaufort Sea coast, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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