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Nearshore bathymetric changes along the Alaska Beaufort Sea coast and possible physical drivers

May 20, 2022

Erosion rates along Alaska's Beaufort Sea coast, among the highest in the world, are negatively impacting communities, industrial and military infrastructure, and wildlife habitat. Decreasing maximal winter ice extent and increasing summer open water duration and extent in the Beaufort Sea may be making the coast more vulnerable to destructive storm waves than during recent, colder, icier decades. Previous studies of Beaufort Sea coastal change have been limited to subaerial analyses of the shoreline. Here we describe nearshore seafloor change by comparing post-World War II (WWII) (1945-53) bathymetry data to recently acquired (1985–2018) bathymetry data and relate the observed seafloor change to adjacent shoreline change near Utqiagvik, within Stefansson Sound, and immediately west of Barter Island and Kaktovik. Within the Utqiagvik region, seabed erosion was generally highest (>1.0 m of loss) offshore of Point Barrow and along the eastern end of the Tapkaluk Islands, while there were lesser amounts of deposition (<0.5 m of gain) within the protected waters of Elson Lagoon. Sedimentation was generally highest offshore of Point Barrow, in a region of converging currents, and on the landward side of the barrier islands and spits fronting Elson Lagoon, which is likely related to a regional trend of westerly sediment transport and landward migration of the barrier islands. Within Stefansson Sound, perhaps the most notable changes from post-WWII bathymetry data compared to recent data are a switch from mixed, low erosion and deposition in 1997 to low deposition (<0.5 m) in 2018 east of the Boulder Patch, a switch from low erosion in 1997 to neutral depth change in 2018 in the channel between the north and south Boulder Patch areas, and higher deposition from 1997 to 2018 landward of the rapidly retreating barrier islands along the Sound's northern border. At Barter Island, high erosion near north-facing shorelines and high deposition near west-facing shorelines generally matched shoreline changes. One of our goals is to identify possible processes responsible for the depth changes we quantified. Using simple metrics that relate sediment characteristics with modeled waves and non-wave induced currents, we show that sediment resuspension and transport by both wave and non-wave driven currents likely contribute to the overall patterns of change within the ∼13 m isobath along the open coast, and that the influence of wave action affecting sediment transport is expanding seaward.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Nearshore bathymetric changes along the Alaska Beaufort Sea coast and possible physical drivers
DOI 10.1016/j.csr.2022.104745
Authors Mark Zimmermann, Li H. Erikson, Ann E. Gibbs, Megan M. Prescott, Stephen M. Escarzaga, Craig E. Tweedie, Jeremy L. Kasper, Paul X. Duvoy
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Continental Shelf Research
Series Number
Index ID 70231812
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center