Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Gearing Up (and Slip-Sliding Away)

L-R: Robert Anderson, Irina Overeem, and Cameron Wobus (all U Colorado) prepare to go into the field in Alaska.

L-R: Robert Anderson, Irina Overeem, and Cameron Wobus (all U Colorado) prepare to go into the field in Alaska.

Parts of Alaska’s coastline are crumbling into the sea, and the research team pictured above wants to understand why. The earth scientists from U Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences are studying Drew Point, along Alaska’s northern coastline, to better explain what physical processes most impact coastal stability–warmer temperatures or increased wave action due to reduced shore-fast sea-ice, or other factors?

After gearing up at the CPS offices in Fairbanks, the team flew up to Lonely, and from there shuttled into Drew Point on the Beaufort Sea coast by helicopter. They are now camping at Drew Point for several days, using instruments in the water to monitor temperature and wave dynamics; on land, time-lapse photography and soil temperature data add to their information trove.  When they return to Colorado in early August, the scientists will analyze their data and that from other sources (satellite imagery, off-shore buoy data, etc.) to better understand the erosion process.

Some villages in Alaska have been heavily impacted by coastal erosion; the village of Kivalina is a good example.  The work carried out by Anderson, Wobus and Overeem may help planners predict where future coastal erosion is likely to occur, what particular climatic conditions promote erosion, and what processes either accelerate or decelerate rates of shoreline change.

Andy Revkin wrote about this project last fall—and posted a short video showing coastal erosion–in his New York Times blog, Dot Earth.