Alaska – disappearing at 45 feet per year

While the big climate conference in Copenhagen is turning out to more of a train wreak as each day goes by another piece of Alaska disappears in the the fridge ocean water. In what could be considered a microcosm of what will happen around the rest of the world at some point Alaska has found it self at the center of an ecological perfect storm.

It is the combination of three major threats of: less ice, more waves and warmer water, that is causing large portions of the state’s coastline to fall into the ocean. We’re not talking inches here either. In fact the amount of disappearing coastline amounts to 45 feet per year.

This fact was discovered recently by researchers at the University of Boulder in a study co-authored by CU-Boulder Associate Professor Robert Anderson. Anderson is joined by Irina Overeem, of CU’s Institute of Artic and Alpine Reseach, Cameron Wobus, from Stratus Consulting, as well as co-authors Gary Clow and Frank Urban from USGS and Tim Stanton of the Naval Postgraduate School.

The researchers used a variety of instruments and methods in the study to examine the dynamic transition between the land and the sea, including time-lapse photography of shoreline erosion, global positioning systems (GPS), meteorological measurements including temperature and wind speed, and sediment analyses of the coastal bluffs. Offshore measurements included sea-ice distribution, ocean floor depth, sea-surface temperatures and wave dynamics, said Anderson, also a fellow at INSTAAR.

The time-lapse images were taken with four tripod mounted “game cameras” often used by hunters and wildlife biologists and which were set up parallel to the shoreline. The cameras snapped pictures every six hours during the 24-hour summer daylight months to track the effects of the waves on the coastline, said Anderson.

“Once one of these blocks topples, the process continues on to the next block,” Anderson said. “These images are very powerful, because they pick up activity during severe storms when we aren’t there to watch.” The images also illustrate the steady melting along the water’s edge that helps to undermine the bluffs even in the absence of storm activity.

Source:University of Colorado

Here is a video showing some of the time-lapse pictures taken of the erosion in action.