Alaska’s shoreline erosion rate among highest worldwide

Alaska has some of the most aggressive rates of shoreline erosion in the world. These findings are part of a new study released Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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This oblique aerial photograph from 2006 shows the Barter Island long-range radar station landfill threatened by coastal erosion. The landfill was subsequently relocated further inland, however, the coastal bluffs continue to retreat. Photo by Bruce Richmond/Ann Gibbs, USGS.
This oblique aerial photograph from 2006 shows the Barter Island long-range radar station landfill threatened by coastal erosion. The landfill was subsequently relocated further inland, however, the coastal bluffs continue to retreat. Photo by Bruce Richmond/Ann Gibbs, USGS.

USGS scientists studied nearly 1000 miles of shoreline from the Canadian Border to Icy Cape. The most extreme erosion was found around Drew Point, north of Teshekpuk Lake, about 70 miles east of Barrow.

USGS geologist Ann Gibbs is the lead author of the study. She says the most destructive erosion happens on elevated land.

“When the bluffs erode as opposed to a beach that might, the sand might get deposited offshore and then get washed back up, that happens a lot in more temperate climates,” Gibbs said. “Once the bluff erodes, it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”

An average of a meter per year is eroding overall. Gibbs says on the Chukchi side, the rate is about 0.3 meters per year.

“And on the Beaufort coast it’s about six times higher, 1.7 meters a year, so there’s a lot more going on on the Beaufort coast and we don’t quite know why that is. it has to do with the geology, the rock strength and the energy of waves hitting that part of the coast,” Gibbs said.

The study is part of an ongoing assessment of the nation’s shoreline. It did not address climate change.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori