February 18, 2009

Beaufort Sea coastal erosion increases

Researchers say coastal erosion along a 40-mile stretch of the Beaufort Sea in Alaska more than doubled to about 45 feet annually between 2002 and 2007.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist Benjamin Jones, who led the study, said although the patterns documented in the research might represent a short-term episode of enhanced erosion, the findings might also represent the future pattern of coastline erosion in the Arctic.

Jones and his colleagues said recent shifts in the rate and pattern of land loss along the Beaufort Sea coastline segment are potentially a result of changing Arctic conditions, including declining sea ice, 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, the researchers said. 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.

The study is reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.