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.
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 www.arcticcoasts.org. 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?
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.