News & Events

Grad student talk - Sea ice and arctic coasts

Thursday, February 13, 2014, 4:30PM - 5:30PM

Grad student talk - Sea ice and arctic coasts


Katy Barnhart


RL-3 room 248

Coasts form the dynamic interface of the terrestrial and oceanic systems. In the Arctic, and in much of the world, the coast is a zone of relatively high population, infrastructure, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. A significant difference between Arctic and temperate coasts is the presence of sea ice. Sea ice influences Arctic coasts in two main ways: (1) the length of the sea ice-free season controls the length of time over which nearshore water can interact with the land, and (2) the sea ice edge controls the fetch over which storm winds can blow over open water, resulting in changes in nearshore water level and wave field. The resulting nearshore hydrodynamic environment impacts all aspects of the coastal system.

Arctic coastlines are responding rapidly to climate change. Remotely sensed observations of coastline position indicate that the mean annual erosion rate along a 60-km reach of Alaska’s Beaufort Sea coast, characterized by high ice content and small grain size, doubled from 7 m yr-1 for the period 1955-1979 to 14 m yr-1 for 2002-2007. Over the last 30 years the duration of the open water season expanded from ∼45 days to ∼95 days. Time-lapse photography indicates that coastal erosion in this environment is a halting process: the most significant erosion occurs during storm events in which local water level is elevated by surge, during which instantaneous submarine erosion rates can reach 1-2 m/day. In contrast, at times of low water, or when sea ice is present, erosion rates are negligible.

I use a combination of field and remotely sensed observations to understand the process of coastal erosion in this environment and consider how ice-rich coasts will respond to a changing Arctic.