Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

When the Arctic coast retreats, life in the shallow water areas drastically changes

04.01.2017

The ecological consequences of increasing coastal erosion in the Arctic must be investigated better

The thawing and erosion of Arctic permafrost coasts has dramatically increased in the past years and the sea is now consuming more than 20 metres of land per year at some locations. The earth masses removed in this process increasingly blur the shallow water areas and release nutrients and pollutants. Yet, the consequences of these processes on life in the coastal zone and on traditional fishing grounds are virtually unknown.


Eroding coastline in arctic summer, with outgoing mudslide on Herschel Island, Canada

Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Jaroslav Obu


Infograph about coastal erosion and its biogeochemical impacts on the shallow water zone.

Graph: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Michael Fritz/Y. Nowak

Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) urge to focus our attention on the ecological consequences of coastal erosion in the January issue of the journal Nature Climate Change. According to the scientists, an interdisciplinary research program is required, and must involve policy-makers as well as inhabitants of the Arctic coasts right from the onset.

The difference could hardly be greater. In the winter, when the Beaufort Sea is frozen around the Canadian permafrost island of Herschel Island (Qikiqtaruk), the sea water in the sample bottles of the AWI researcher Dr. Michael Fritz looks crystal clear. In summer, however, when the ice floes are melted and the sun and waves start to wear the cliff away, the water sample of the Potsdam geoscientist contains a cloudy broth.

"Herschel Island loses up to 22 metres of coast each year. The thawed permafrost slides down into the sea in the form of mud slides and blurs the surrounding shallow water areas so much that the brownish-grey sediment plumes reach many kilometres into the sea," reports the polar researcher.

His observations of Herschel Island can now be transferred to large parts of the Arctic. 34 percent of the coasts around the world are permafrost coasts. This means, especially in the Arctic, that its soil contains a large amount of frozen water, which keeps the sediments together like cement. If the permafrost thaws, the binding effect fails. The sediments as well as animal and plant remains, which are frozen in the permafrost, are suddenly released in the water and are washed away by the waves.

In this process, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are released and lead to even greater global warming. The eroded material also contains a lot of nutrients and pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus or mercury. These substances enter the sea, where they are further transported, degraded or accumulated and permanently alter the living conditions in the shallow water area. "We can until now only guess the implications for the food chain. To date, almost no research has been carried out on the link between the biogeochemistry of the coastal zone and increasing erosion and what consequences this has on ecosystems, on traditional fishing grounds, and thus also on the people of the Arctic," says Michael Fritz.

For this reason, Michael Fritz, the Dutch permafrost expert Jorien Vonk and AWI researcher Hugues Lantuit call on the polar research community to systematically investigate the consequences of coastal erosion for the arctic shallow water areas in the current issue of the journal Nature Climate Change. "The processes in the arctic coastal zone play an outstanding role for four reasons. Firstly, the thawed organic material is decomposed by microorganisms, producing greenhouse gases. Secondly, released nutrients stimulate the growth of algae, which can lead to the formation of low-oxygen zones. Thirdly, the addition of organic carbon increases the acidification of the sea, and fourth, the sediments are deposited on the seabed or are transported to the open ocean. "This has direct consequences for the biology of the sea," the authors say.

The urgency of the topic also increases with the warming of the Arctic: "We believe that the erosion of the Arctic coasts will increase drastically as a result of rising temperatures, the shrinking of the protective sea ice cover, and the rising sea level," says AWI permafrost expert and co-author Professor Hugues Lantuit. He adds that “during the ice-free season the waves can hit the coast higher and affect more land”. An erosion of that magnitude will without a doubt alter the food web in the coastal zone, and will affect those people who depend on fishing and who cultivate their traditional way of life along Arctic coasts.

The main reason why research on this topic has not been carried out so far is linked to logistics. Much of the arctic coastal and shallow water zones are not accessible either by car or plane, or by large icebreakers. There is also no arctic-wide station network at the coast that could be used by researchers to collect reliable data. “Politics and science must find common solutions here, for example within the framework of the EU research program Horizon 2020. In order to make concrete statements on the consequences of erosion, we need an interdisciplinary research program that includes policy-makers and the Arctic population from the beginning,” says Michael Fritz.

Notes for Editors:
The article has been published under the following title in the journal Nature Climate Change:
• Michael Fritz, Jorien E. Vonk, Hugues Lantuit: Collapsing Arctic coastlines. Nature Climate Change. Januar 2017. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3188; Link: http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nclimate3188

Photos and maps of the extent of coastal erosion in the Arctic can be found in the online version of this press release at: http://www.awi.de/nc/en/about-us/service/press/press-release/when-the-arctic-coast-retreats-life-in-the-shallow-water-areas-drastically-changes.html

Your scientific contacts at the Alfred Wegener Institute are:
• Dr Michael Fritz (tel.: +49 (0) 331 288 – 2203; e-mail: Micheal.Fritz(at)awi.de)
• Dr Hugues Lantuit (tel.: +49 (0) 331 288 – 2216; mobile : +49 170 45 40 677 ; e-mail: Hugues.Lantuit(at)awi.de)

Your contact in the Communications and Media Department is Sina Löschke (tel.: +49 (0)471 4831 - 2008; e-mail: medien(at)awi.de).

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid latitude oceans. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides important infrastructure such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic for the international science community. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres belonging to the Helmholtz Association, Germany's largest scientific organisation.

Ralf Röchert | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.awi.de/

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations
23.02.2018 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals
22.02.2018 | University of Arizona

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>