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21-33. Coastal Arctic landscape-scale vulnerabilities to climate change impacts


Closing Date: November 1, 2022

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.

Please communicate with individual Research Advisor(s) on the right to discuss project ideas and answer specific questions about the Research Opportunity.

How to Apply


The Arctic coastal plain of Alaska consists of low-relief tundra underlain by continuous permafrost and dynamic barrier island-lagoon systems that front portions of this coastal plain for hundreds of kilometers (Gibbs et al., 2015). Such environments, for example Barter Island and surrounding areas on Alaska’s North Slope coast, are model systems that are actively responding to impacts of climate change, principally from changing ocean storm conditions that reshape barrier island systems (Erikson et al., 2020; Hamilton et al., 2021) and warming air and water temperatures that degrade coastal permafrost and cause enhanced erosion of the coastal bluffs (Gibbs et al., 2021). This erosion can serve as a vector for delivery of organic matter, sediment, and associated nutrients (e.g., C and N) into the coastal ocean. Fresh organic matter can be mineralized and produce CO2 or CH4, thereby providing a potential positive feedback mechanism to further warming.  

In addition to the physical impacts of a changing Arctic climate are new and emerging economic opportunities such as sand and gravel mining for construction and protection of vital coastal infrastructure. Currently, however, little basic information exists on coastal seafloor morphology, sedimentology, ecosystem sustainability, or historical change patterns in the nearshore region off Alaska’s North Slope coast. Additional research is vital to fill these data gaps and to develop a better understanding of the distribution and character of near coast sediment, its sources, pathways and budget, and fate of associated organic material and nutrients. Comprehensive information on sediment loadings and drivers and dynamics of Arctic coastal change, including barrier island, bluff, and beach morphodynamics, is needed to advance understanding of the sediment budget and promote sustainable development and use of resources along this remote US coastline. 

The Mendenhall Fellow may combine field observations and local knowledge with modeling approaches to investigate the morphodynamics and effects of permafrost degradation in coastal bluffs and barrier islands along the North Slope of Alaska. Specific needs are to quantify erosion and associated material fluxes, including carbon, that are exchanged between land and the coastal ocean. These studies will address how climate-change impacts and natural processes impact the stability of the coastal barrier islands that support fragile ecosystems and protect mainland communities, infrastructure, and traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Outreach and engagement with State and local government, communities, and stakeholders to identify specific information needs is encouraged. The candidate will ideally have a background in coastal geology, oceanography, and/or permafrost biogeochemistry. A solid familiarity with and appreciation of Arctic coastal environments and Native Alaskan communities would be ideal as well. 

Specialized scientific field equipment (e.g., oceanographic moorings, remote sensing equipment, surface geophysical and geochemical instrumentation) developed by USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center staff are available to the Fellow. Opportunities to conduct unique field work in coastal environments on the North Slope coast of Alaska will also support existing USGS research within the USGS Alaska Coastal Processes and Hazards (ACPH) project, the interests of the North Slope Borough government and residents, the State of Alaska Coastal Hazards Program, and other potential U.S. and international academic collaborations. 

One of the principal goals of the ACPH is to develop field and model-based risk and vulnerability assessments of the coastal bluffs and barrier islands that are experiencing enhanced degradation due to climate-change impacts. Over the years this project has targeted several strategic sites along Alaska’s north coast. Barter Island, Point Barrow, and Foggy Island Bay are recent focal sites being studied by USGS researchers using this integrated approach. The main objective of this RO is to assess coastal Arctic landscape-scale vulnerabilities to climate change impacts, which directly builds on the previous research carried out at USGS and will present the Fellow with numerous opportunities to expand their skill set and work with a team of geoscientists. 

The Fellow will have freedom to develop a research focus most befitting to their background and interests and that is grounded in the USGS mission of providing timely science that is socially relevant, impactful for decision making, and addresses the information needs of Arctic residents. Potential directions include, but are not limited to, advancing a suite of USGS tools related to coastal processes and further enhancing our understanding of these dynamic coastal environments, permafrost degradation, hydrologic and oceanographic controls of erosion, and isotopic tracking techniques to assess material fluxes. 

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas. 


Erikson, L.H., Gibbs, A.E., Richmond, B.M., Storlazzi, C.D., Jones, B.M., and Ohman, K.A., 2020, Changing storm conditions in response to projected 21st century climate change and the potential impact on an Arctic barrier island–lagoon system—A pilot study for Arey Island and Lagoon, eastern Arctic Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1142, 68, p.,

Gibbs, A.E., Erikson, L.H., Jones, B.M., Richmond, B.M., Engelstad, A.C., 2021. Seven Decades of Coastal Change at Barter Island, Alaska: Exploring the Importance of Waves and Temperature on Erosion of Coastal Permafrost Bluffs. Remote Sensing 13, no. 21: 4420.  

Gibbs, A.E., and Richmond, B.M., 2015, National assessment of shoreline change—Historical shoreline change along the north coast of Alaska, U.S.–Canadian border to Icy Cape: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1048, 96 p., 

Hamilton, A.I., Gibbs, A.E., Erikson, L.H., and Engelstad, A.C., 2021, Assessment of barrier island morphological change in northern Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2021–1074, 28 p., 

Irrgang, A.M., Bendixen, M., Farquharson, L.M., Baranskaya, A.V., Erikson, L.H., Gibbs, A.E., Ogorodov, S.A., Overduin, P.P., Lantuit, H., Grigoriev, M.N., Jones, B.M., 2022. Drivers, dynamics and impacts of changing Arctic coasts. Nature Reviews Earth and Environments 3, 39–54,  

Proposed Duty Station(s): Santa Cruz, California 

Areas of PhD: Geology, geomorphology, oceanography, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered). 

Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications:  Research Geologist, Research Geophysicist, Research Oceanographer, Research Physical Scientist.  

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact: Victor Mendoza, 650-439-2454,

Apply Here