Photo via University of Colorado at Boulder
A study out of the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that a substantial piece of the northern Alaska coastline is eroding at an astonishing rate of 45 feet a year thanks to three major threats - less ice, more waves, and warmer water. In other words, climate change is eating away at Alaska, and fast. We first heard about this back in the spring. Now there's a time-lapse video showing just how fast it's eroding.. As all three conditions combine, they erode the shoreline between Point Barrow and Prudhoe Bay with frightening speed.
PhysOrg reports, "The conditions have led to the steady retreat of 30 to 45 feet a year of the 12-foot-high bluffs -- frozen blocks of silt and peat containing 50 to 80 percent ice -- which are toppled into the Beaufort Sea during the summer months by a combination of large waves pounding the shoreline and warm seawater melting the base of the bluffs, said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Robert Anderson, a co-author on the study. Once the blocks have fallen, the coastal seawater melts them in a matter of days, sweeping the silty material out to sea."
With less ice cover during the summers to protect the shore from the ocean, and warmer ocean waters almost guaranteed, the erosion seems unstoppable. In fact, the scientists working on the study say as much. There is little evidence that this erosion has an end point. As the shoreline is made up of blocks of permafrost, the conditions basically ensure that large chunks are taken off at a time during stormy weather.
"Once one of these blocks topples, the process continues on to the next block," Anderson said.
Using time lapse cameras and submerged ocean buoys, the team recorded the erosion measurements.
While no towns are under threat, the loss of habitat for wildlife is tremendous, and there is abandoned military and petroleum infrastructure to be concerned about. And, as reported in Discovery News, "what's happening along the shores of the Beaufort Sea might hint at what's to come in the rest of the Arctic, where a slower pace of erosion is harder to measure but equally important, said lead researcher Benjamin Jones, a geographer with the United States Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska."