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Variability in terrestrial characteristics and erosion rates on the Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast

October 18, 2023

Arctic coastal environments are eroding and rapidly changing. A lack of pan-Arctic observations limits our ability to understand controls on coastal erosion rates across the entire Arctic region. Here, we capitalize on an abundance of geospatial and remotely sensed data, in addition to model output, from the North Slope of Alaska to identify relationships between historical erosion rates and landscape characteristics to guide future modeling and observational efforts across the Arctic. Using existing datasets from the Alaska Beaufort Sea coast and a hierarchical clustering algorithm, we developed a set of 16 coastal typologies that captures the defining characteristics of environments susceptible to coastal erosion. Relationships between landscape characteristics and historical erosion rates show that no single variable alone is a good predictor of erosion rates. Variability in erosion rate decreases with increasing coastal elevation, but erosion rate magnitudes are highest for intermediate elevations. Areas along the Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast (ABSC) protected by barrier islands showed a three times lower erosion rate on average, suggesting that barrier islands are critical to maintaining mainland shore position. Finally, typologies with the highest erosion rates are not broadly representative of the ABSC and are generally associated with low elevation, north- to northeast-facing shorelines, a peaty pebbly silty lithology, and glaciomarine deposits with high ice content. All else being equal, warmer permafrost is also associated with higher erosion rates, suggesting that warming permafrost temperatures may contribute to higher future erosion rates on permafrost coasts. The suite of typologies can be used to guide future modeling and observational efforts by quantifying the distribution of coastlines with specific landscape characteristics and erosion rates.

Publication Year 2023
Title Variability in terrestrial characteristics and erosion rates on the Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/ad04b8
Authors Anastasia Piliouras, Benjamin M. Jones, Tabatha Clevenger, Ann E. Gibbs, Joel C. Rowland
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Research Letters
Index ID 70252214
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center