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Bering sea coastline worn awayCoastal Erosion Affects BLM Arctic Lands

Imagine a place where coastal erosion rates are among the highest in the world—and that’s increasing!

[Photo by Benjamin Jones, USGS showing where the Esook Trading Post once thrived]  

The BLM currently manages 1,154 miles of coastline on Alaska’s North Slope, a coastline that makes up the northern border of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). Coastal erosion is most noticeable from Drew Point to Cape Halkett, especially near Pogik Bay.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Benjamin Jones and his colleagues recently researched the average erosion rates along this segment of the NPR-A’s coast. While coastline erosion is a natural process, Jones says “it appears that erosion between Drew Point and Cape Halkett is increasing.” He points out that “some locations along the Drew Point to Cape Halkett stretch have eroded inland the length of nearly nine football fields between 1955 and 2009!”
The research shows that between 1955-2001, erosion rates ranged from 6-meters to 8-meters per year. The new research shows the rates from 2002-2009 eroding at a rate of 14-meters to 17-meters per year. Although sites studied vary, 60 percent show an increasing rate of erosion.
John Payne, Director of the North Slope Science Initiative (NSSI), says that “Coastal erosion is a big issue for the NSSI.” He adds that “it will most likely continue to increase due to sea-level rise; decreased amounts of shorefast ice and near shore pack ice; increased depth of the active layer; warming ocean waters; and, more intense storms.” The NSSI hopes to conduct more scientific studies and will continue to monitor coastal erosion.
In response to coastal erosion, the BLM plugged the J.W. Dalton (2004), Atigaru (2009), and Drew Point (2010) legacy wells in the NPRA.

By Vanessa Rathbun, John Payne, and Benjamin Jones

Reports, studies, and resources are available from the North Slope Science Initiative, http://www.northslope.org

Find USGS data, studies, photos, videos, and map resources, http://alaska.usgs.gov.

1955 map showing coastline of Bering Sea

COMPARE 1955 TO 2009 - Bering Sea Coastline Satellite Maps

2009 Satellite Map of Bering Sea coastline

Last updated: 07-22-2016