Alaska researchers launch new project to study receding coastlines

Published: Oct. 12, 2017 at 9:13 AM AKDT
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Powerful waves are being thrown at coastal communities, pushed from volatile winter storms which eat away at the land gradually over time. Though tides are naturally occurring, these choppier waters pose real threats to towns and villages which rest on vulnerable land.

Now, a new pilot program has been launched to look into why this is happening so frequently, and what it is doing to Alaska's coastline.

Researchers with the University of Alaska Fairbanks are using "storm-surge sensors" to collect new data about the severe winter storms. In a statement issued by UAF, they say this research was necessitated by the storms "slowly claiming several erosion-ravaged Northwest Alaska villages."

In Kivalina, Shaktoolik and Shishmaref, Nick Konefal, a research engineer at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, has deployed the sensors to better record exactly what is happening to the land there.

The goal of this data is to measure the storm frequency, which could provide answers into factors like climate change and shrinking sea ice, which is only half of the equation.

“These are small communities, and they know every square inch of the land,” Konefal said. “If you talk to locals they say the storms are getting bigger, but there’s not a lot of data out there.”

The sensors, which are mounted on tripods and planted near water lines in the communities, are activated to collect data during peak winter storm months from October to December.

Konefal said the ultimate goal of the project is to better predict winter storms and their potential for damage.

“If the storms are getting bigger, we want to know what’s happening,” he said.