Examining the Effects of Arctic Warming on Coastal Landforms and Estuarine Ecosystems

Jeffrey Donnelly, Geology & Geophysics
Joan Bernhard, Geology & Geophysics
Liviu Giosan, Geology & Geophysics
Andrew Ashton, Geology & Geophysics
Kris Karnauskas, Geology & Geophysics
Andrea Hawkes, Geology & Geophysics


Arctic Research Initiative
2010 Funded Project


Examining the Effects of Arctic Warming on Coastal Landforms and Estuarine Ecosystems Abstract  The current reduction in sea ice and permafrost which began in the late 19th century has accelerated over the last three decades and may lead to a nearly ice free Arctic by the mid 21st century.  Longer periods of open ocean and increased fetch associated with decreasing seasonal ice cover will likely cause accelerated coastal erosion in some areas while increasing alongshore transport of sediment could cause other areas to prograde.  Thawing of permafrost, compounded by warming and reductions in sea ice, may result in more coastal erosion and riverine sediment flux to coastal areas leading to changes in landscape and ecosystem dynamics.  Unfortunately we lack a fundamental understanding of how sea ice and permafrost variability influences coastal landforms like protecting barriers and bay-head deltas that play an essential role in controlling estuarine processes.

In this project we will examine the geomorphic and ecological response to past warming and cooling events documented in the geologic record to provide a means of developing a process-based understanding of how Arctic systems may change in the future.  Further, model-based analyses will project changes in barrier morphodynamics, and hence their adjacent estuaries, that may be expected as warming continues.  We plan to examine the barrier and estuarine evolution of Goodnews Bay in the eastern Bering Sea, which is extremely sensitive to changes in sea ice and permafrost and patterns of change here are likely indicative of the types of future geomorphic changes that may take place throughout the high Arctic in the coming decades to centuries.