Part of Alaskas coast drifting into sea at twice the rate it has in past

February 21st, 2009 - 2:17 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic

Washington, Feb 21 (ANI): A new study has indicated that part of Alaskas coast is drifting into the sea at twice the rate it has in the past, reshaping the Arctic shoreline.

The study of the 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of coast was published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the trend could seriously threaten the areas caribou and other wildlife, as well as local landmarks that document human settlements.

Some stretches of the states northern shore along the Beaufort Sea receded by more than 80 feet (25 meters) in summer 2007 alone, when Arctic sea ice was at a record low.

In the past, spurts of erosion had often been linked to storms, but there were no major storms in 2007.

That suggests a shift in the forces driving erosion, said lead author Benjamin Jones, a research geographer at the U.S. Geological Survey.

One major force now is global warming, according to the research.

Warming air and sea temperatures are melting the ice in the regions permafrost, or perpetually frozen earth.

The meltwater then streams over the land and melts more permafrost, carrying sediment into the sea as it goes.

From 2002 to 2007, the melting ice caused the coast to disappear at a rate of about 45 feet (14 meters) a year.

Thats up from an annual average of 30 feet (9 meters) between 1979 and 2002 and 20 feet (6 meters) between 1955 and 1979.

Remains of the ghost town of Esook, a hundred-year-old trading post, have been buried underwater as a result of the erosion, Jones said.

According to Larry Hinzman, director of the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, the permafrost in this region has a considerable amount of ice, which is one reason it is melting so fast.

If it were a different soil type, it would have less ice and would not erode so quickly, said Hinzman.

Hinzman said that the findings would not be representative of the whole Arctic, but there are many places in the Arctic where the permafrost does contain similarly massive amounts of ice.

The researchers call for more study of the erosion patterns so that preservation plans can be devised and new development can avoid early demise. (ANI)

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