Modern Erosion Rates and Loss of Coastal Features and Sites, Beaufort Sea Coastline, Alaska


  • Benjamin M. Jones
  • Kenneth M. Hinkel
  • Christopher D. Arp
  • Wendy R. Eisner



Alaska, Arctic, Beaufort Sea coastline, coastal erosion, shoreline analysis


This study presents modern erosion rate measurements based upon vertical aerial photography captured in 1955, 1979, and 2002 for a 100 km segment of the Beaufort Sea coastline. Annual erosion rates from 1955 to 2002 averaged 5.6 m a-1. However, mean erosion rates increased from 5.0 m a-1 in 1955–79 to 6.2 m a-1 in 1979–2002. Furthermore, from the first period to the second, erosion rates increased at 60% (598) of the 992 sites analyzed, decreased at 31% (307), and changed less than ± 30 cm at 9% (87). Historical observations and quantitative studies over the past 175 years allowed us to place our erosion rate measurements into a longer-term context. Several of the coastal features along this stretch of coastline received Western place names during the Dease and Simpson expedition in 1837, and the majority of those features had been lost by the early 1900s as a result of coastline erosion, suggesting that erosion has been active over at least the historical record. Incorporation of historical and modern observations also allowed us to detect the loss of both cultural and historical sites and modern infrastructure. U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps reveal a number of known cultural and historical sites, as well as sites with modern infrastructure constructed as recently as the 1950s, that had disappeared by the early 2000s as a result of coastal erosion. We were also able to identify sites that are currently being threatened by an encroaching coastline. Our modern erosion rate measurements can potentially be used to predict when a historical site or modern infrastructure will be affected if such erosion rates persist.