Permafrost researchers analyze the drivers of rapidly changing Arctic coasts

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain
Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

January 11 2022 by Alfred Wegener Institute

Arctic coasts are characterized by sea ice, permafrost and ground ice. This makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which is already accelerating rapid coastal erosion. The increasing warming is affecting coast stability, sediments, carbon storage, and nutrient mobilization. Understanding the correlation of these changes is essential to improve forecasts and adaptation strategies for Arctic coasts. In a special issue of the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute describe the sensitivity of Arctic coasts to climate change and the challenges for humans and nature.

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Irrgang, A.M., M. Bendixen, L.M. Farquharson, A.V. Baranskaya, L.H. Erikson, A.E. Gibbs, S.A. Ogorodov, P.P. Overduin, H. Lantuit, M.N. Grigoriev, and B.M. Jones. (2022). Drivers, dynamics and impacts of changing Arctic coasts. Nature Reviews Earth and Environment. (RGMA)

Projection: $110 Billion in Repairs for Russian Pipelines on Permafrost

by Jenessa Duncombe 16 December 2021

The Zapolyarnoye gas field in the Russian Arctic in 2013. Credit: Russian Federation Government, CC BY 3.0

Permafrost thaw is a major threat to pipelines in the Russian Arctic, particularly those carrying natural gas. One of the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas may face billions in upgrades as permafrost thaw destabilizes pipelines in the Arctic, according to new research.

Russia produces 80% of its natural gas in the Arctic, where rising temperatures are thawing ground that has been frozen for tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of years.

Tracking the big melt

Beaufort Sea ice, April 2007. Photo courtesy of Andrew Roberts, Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Los Alamos and Oak Ridge scientists lead a DOE supercomputing effort to model the complex interactions affecting climate change in Arctic coastal regions.

Earth’s rapidly changing Arctic coastal regions have an outsized climatic effect that echoes around the globe. Tracking processes behind this evolution is a daunting task even for the best scientists.

Coastlines are some of the planet’s most dynamic areas – places where marine, terrestrial, atmospheric and human actions meet. But the Arctic coastal regions face the most troubling issues from human-caused climate change from increasing greenhouse gas emissions, says Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) scientist Andrew Roberts.

“Arctic coastal systems are very fragile,” says Roberts, who leads the high-performance computing systems element of a broader Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science effort, led by its Biological and Environmental Research (BER) office, to simulate changing Arctic coastal conditions. “Until the last several decades, thick, perennial Arctic sea ice appears to have been generally stable. Now, warming temperatures are causing it to melt.”

In the 1980s, multiyear ice at least four years old accounted for more than 30 percent of Arctic coverage; that has shrunk to not much more than 1 percent today. Whereas that perennial pack ice circulates around the Arctic, another type known as land-fast ice – anchored to a shoreline or the ocean bottom, acting as a floating land extension – is receding toward the coast due to rising temperatures.

This exposes coastal regions to damaging waves that can disperse ice and erode coastal permafrost, Roberts says.

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