Climate Science

Warming to Coastal Erosion

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Science  13 Jul 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5835, pp. 170
DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5835.170c

High northern latitudes are displaying, as predicted, exceptional sensitivity to recent climate warming, as temperatures there have soared more quickly than in any other part of the world. The effects of these rising temperatures are likely to be dramatic. For example, huge expanses of permafrost are in imminent danger of melting, which would have a tremendous impact on such areas as biogeochemical processes involving greenhouse gases, the physical stability of structures built on the previously frozen ground, and the geomorphology of the region. Mars and Houseknecht have combined data from topographic maps and satellite images to document how coastal land loss and thermokarst lake expansion and drainage have affected a segment of the Beaufort Sea coast of Alaska over the past 50 years. They find that coastal erosion rates more than doubled between the early and later parts of that period, and that the acceleration of coastal erosion rates is due to the longer warm seasons, as open water and wave action associated with earlier pack ice breakup affect the coast. — HJS

Geology 35, 583 (2007).

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