Temporal and spatial variability in coastline response to declining sea-ice in northwest Alaska

Farquharson, L.M., D.H. Mann, D.K. Swanson, B.M Jones, R.M. Buzard, and J. Jordan, 2018: Temporal and spatial variability in coastline response to declining sea-ice in northwest Alaska. Marine Geology, vol 404, doi:10.1016/j.margeo.2018.07.007.


Arctic sea-ice is declining in extent, leaving coastlines exposed to more storm-wave events. There is an urgent need to understand how these changes affect geomorphic processes along Arctic coasts. Here we describe spatial and temporal patterns of shoreline changes along two geomorphologically distinct, storm-wave dominated reaches of the Chukchi Sea coastline over the last 64 years. One study area encompasses the west- to southwest-facing, coarse-clastic shoreline and ice-rich bluffs of Cape Krusenstern (CAKR). The other covers the north-facing, sandy shorelines on barrier islands, ice-rich bluffs, and the Cape Espenberg spit in the Bering Land Bridge National Park (BELA). Both study areas lie within the zone of continuous permafrost, which exists both on and offshore and outcrops as ice-rich bluffs along the BELA coast. We mapped changes in coastal geomorphology over three observation periods: 1950–1980, 1980–2003, and 2003–2014 using aerial and satellite imagery. We then compared these geomorphic changes to changes in sea-ice coverage, which declined ~10 days per decade between 1979 and 2016 in the southern Chukchi Sea. Changes in coastal geomorphology in both BELA and CAKR exhibited high spatial variability over the study period. Between 2003 and 2014, shorelines of barrier islands in BELA exhibited the highest mean rates of change, −1.5 m yr−1, while coarse, clastic barrier beaches in CAKR showed only minimal change. Overall, shorelines in both BELA and CAKR became more dynamic (increasing erosion or increasing accumulation) after ca. 2003, with spatial variability in shoreline changes roughly doubling between the first period of observation (1950–1980) and the last (2003–2014). This increase in coastal dynamism may signal a transitional period leading to new state of geomorphic equilibria along these ice-affected coastlines.