Coastal process research in Alaska
David E. Atkinson, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK
Alaska is a large state with an extensive coastline and a large investment in its coastal margins: 80% of its people are coastally or near-coastally situated, many depend on subsistence or commercial harvest from the sea, and there are many examples of heavy resource extraction infrastructure in the coastal zone. A number of communities face immediate and ongoing threats from erosion. Furthermore, in the face of retreating ice there is the looming and near-term likelihood of significantly increased marine operations. Despite this, relatively little work has been done to understand the relationship between atmospheric forcing, ocean response, and the interaction with arctic coastal zones. There are no broadly-applicable coastal erosion prediction models for northern coasts.
The geographical situation of Alaska at the juxtaposition between the frozen Arctic Ocean and the relatively warm North Pacific mean that research into coastal processes and understanding the operation of environmental drivers that affect the state require diverse approaches. That is, an erosion model designed for the Prudhoe Bay region would not work in the Anchorage area. Similarly, lessons learned in the south do not transfer into northern coastlines. These complexities arise for several reasons. First, the presence of ice in the coastal marine environment modifies or even nullifies the interaction of waves with coastal material. Second, the presence of ice in the terrestrial environment – permafrost being one form of this – strongly modifies shoreline response to wave attack. Third, the nature of the Arctic Ocean – that is, ice covered – prevents a long-period swell regime from developing, which precludes the quiet-season build back of material eroded during fall storms. Ice cover is also not accounted for in ocean wave models, yet marginal ice cover (< ~90%) can propagate selected frequencies at various rates of dampening, depending on factors such as mean ice floe size.
NOAA is committed to addressing this situation and improving the capacity of the National Weather Service to forecast for these regions. They are supporting various projects that are tackling different aspects of this problem, for example, identifying community-level adverse weather impacts, improving WaveWatch III for the Alaska region, or loaning high frequency coastal radar systems (CODAR) for use in Alaska. Other groups are participating, including the Environmental Protection Agency, TeckCominco Mines, and recently the State of Alaska has thrown substantial support behind coastal research, following the recommendations of two major reports that came out in spring 2008. This presentation will highlight the problems and issues facing the Alaska coastal situation and discuss the various research efforts underway.
Joint Session 7, Climate Variability in Coastal Zones
Tuesday, 13 January 2009, 1:30 PM-3:00 PM, Room 126A
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