Erosion doubles along part of Alaskas Arctic coast, threatens cultural and historical sites

February 19th, 2009 - 3:53 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 19 (ANI): A study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has revealed that average annual erosion rates along part of Alaskas Arctic Coast has doubled in a 5-year period between 2002 and 2007, which may result in the disappearance of many cultural and historical sites.

The 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.

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, according to Jones and his colleagues.

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, they added.

In another recent study along the same stretch of the Beaufort Sea, Jones and his co-authors verified disappearing cultural and historical sites, including Esook, a turn-of-the-century trading post now part of the Alaskan seafloor and Kolovik (Qalluvik), an abandoned Inupiaq village site that may soon be lost.

At another site, near Lonely, Alaska, Jones snapped a picture of a wooden whaling boat that had rested on a bluff overhanging the ocean for nearly a century.

A few months later, the boat had washed away to sea.

According to the researchers, monitoring of coastal erosion should continue to better understand the causes for these heightened erosion rates, particularly as Arctic regions are being targeted for additional hydrocarbon development. (ANI)

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