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In a recently published study, scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS), University of California Santa Cruz, and Deltares employed advanced numerical wave modeling techniques to assess threats posed by wave-driven erosion and flooding along Alaska's Arctic coast.

Map of study area from US-Canada border to Bering Strait, Alaska
Map of study area from US-Canada border to Bering Strait, Alaska.

Alaska's Arctic coast is rapidly eroding, primarily driven by permafrost thaw and escalating wave energy. Sea ice cover—which buffers coastlines from waves—is diminishing due to climate change, leaving the Arctic coast increasingly vulnerable to erosion and other coastal hazards.

One challenge to assessing these threats is the dearth of long-term observational wave data along Alaska's Arctic coastline, hindering effective planning and mitigation efforts by engineers, scientists, and planners. To bridge this gap, researchers turned to numerical wave modeling techniques to hindcast past conditions.

The study, focusing on the stretch of coast from the United States-Canada border to the Bering Sea, spanned the years 1979 to 2019, a crucial period marked by significant climatic shifts. By employing a numerical wave model with winds and medium- to deep-water waves from ERA5 reanalysis, the scientists generated comprehensive time series data on wave heights, periods, and directions within the nearshore shallow regions.

The numerical wave model accounts for essential physical processes pertinent to the nearshore environment, such as shoaling, breaking, and nonlinear wave-wave interactions, offering a better understanding of coastal wave dynamics. Such insights are key to understanding the interplay between climate-induced changes and coastal erosion patterns, crucial for devising effective adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Read the study: Database and Time Series of Nearshore Waves Along the Alaskan Coast from the United States-Canada Border to the Bering Sea. 


Time-lapse video of bluff erosion on Barter Island, Alaska.

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