Alfred Wegener Institute Observed “Dramatic Changes” Based On Only 10 Years Of Data

Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute has issued a press release about a comprehensive study on the erosion of Arctic coastlines it has recently released. Many media outlets in Germany were busy peddling the “dramatic results” over the last day or so. So what data do we have to back up all the drama? Only about 10 years worth, it turns out.

Dramatic! Most coastlines are stable or actually agrading. (Source: Alfred Wegener Institute)

Excerpts of the AWI press release (emphasis added):

The coastline in Arctic regions reacts to climate change with increased erosion and retreats by half a metre per year on average.  This means substantial changes for Arctic ecosystems near the coast and the population living there. A consortium of more than thirty scientists from ten countries, including researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association and from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, comes to this conclusion in two studies published in Estuaries and Coasts and online on They jointly investigated over 100,000 kilometres and thus a fourth of all Arctic coasts and their results have now been published for the first time.”

I’d think data from up there is probably rather scant going back more than 10 years, certainly when you go back 50 years or more.

The changes are particularly dramatic in the Laptev, East Siberian and Beaufort Seas, where coastal erosion rates reach more than 8 metres a year in some cases. Since around a third of the world’s coasts are located in the Arctic permafrost, coastal erosion may affect enormous areas in future.”

Two thirds of the Arctic coasts do not consist of rock, but of frozen soft substrate (permafrost). And precisely these coasts are extremely hard hit by erosion. As a rule, Arctic regions are quite thinly populated. However, as nearly everywhere in the world, the coasts in the far north are important axes for economic and social life. The growing need for global energy resources as well as increasing tourism and freight transport additionally intensify anthropogenic influence on the coastal regions of the Arctic. For wild animal stocks, like the great caribou herds of the north, and the widespread freshwater lakes near the coast progressive erosion brings about significant changes in ecological conditions.

This looks more and more like a touchy feely nature documentary we often see on TV. No one lives there, yet it has an economic impact? Ice ages have also had an impact on these regions, like being covered by a mile of ice. Most animals get a bit disturbed by that too.

‘When systematic data acquisition began in 2000, detailed information was available for barely 0.5% of the Arctic coasts,’ says Dr. Hugues Lantuit from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI).”

10 years of data? That’s it? That’s enough to call the situation dramatic?

Surprise! The coastlines are eroding. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Photo of coastal erosion. Source: Wikipedia – (Pacific coastline, not the Arctic).

These are impacts due to weather. We have little historical data with which to compare this to. Coastal erosion has been around since we have had oceans and seas. I seriously doubt there is much there except a subtle plea for more funding. Finding a spot or two along the Arctic shores with 8 meters of erosion makes for nice headlines.

10 responses to “Alfred Wegener Institute Observed “Dramatic Changes” Based On Only 10 Years Of Data”

  1. Edward

    Parts of the north of England disappear at a rate of 1metre/yr, I don’t know about 8 m….but it is undoubtedly possible but the point is moot PG, land erodes and down the coast it is deposited, gee whizz.

    The sea will not be denied, ref: King Canute.

  2. DirkH

    They’ll have to take one step backwards every two years or they’ll drown!

  3. DirkH

    Imagine the danger under which our celebrities have to live!

    No wonder they’re all fighting AGW where they can.

  4. DirkH

    Here is the large version of their map, contrasting stable/aggravating coastlines with eroding ones. Caution, big graphic. The “rapid erosion” hotspots are few and far between. Caribous might want to avoid these areas; but as they are vegetables AFAIK there’s nothing they can do… 😉

  5. R. de Haan

    It is terrible.
    At the Dutch coast an entire beach pavilion was swallowed by the waves.

    After they dumped fresh sand on the beach, they rebuild the pavilion and took a break for 10 years until the same thing happened again.

    Erosion has nothing to do with sea level rise, Global Warming or Climate Change.

    No need to blow up our economies eliminating CO2 emissions about something that happens entirely natural. Just adjust and adapt.

    As for the coastal erosion presented in the picture:
    Ever heard of wire mesh and concrete? The Germans build the Atlantic Wall in three years time. The technology is very old. The Romans used it to build harbors and the Dutch use it to reinforce their dikes.

    First you apply a rigid mesh wire fence from the top to the bottom of the eroding segment.
    At the bottom you dump some big rocks that function as wave breakers, real heavy stuff. They already applied the rocks in the picture but they forgot about the mesh and the concrete to secure the wall. The entire cliff is covered with concrete from the rocks down at the beach to the top of the cliff.

    Yes, it will cost a bundle but it’s cheaper than losing your property.
    Concrete is practically erosion proof.

    You apply a

  6. Hector Pascal

    “Since around a third of the world’s coasts are located in the Arctic permafrost, coastal erosion may affect enormous areas in future.”

    Really! What an extraordinary claim. I made a very rough measurement, running my mapwheel over my globe, around the Arctic Ocean, including Hudson Bay and the Greenland coast. It returned 500 units. Africa and the Americas (alone) gave me 1600 units. Perhaps they were using a Mercator projection to get this figure.

    Wegener was one of the greats of geoscience. I wonder what he would have made of this?

  7. olga

    Interesting thinking…

  8. Jimbo

    10 years is not climate- 30 years or more of data is climate. The above is just the weather.

    If the Arctic does make a comeback then many will be left with egg on face.

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