Going, Going, Gone? Collapsing Coastlines Impact Native Ecosystems

In a recent online article Science News reported that Arctic coastlines are collapsing, slushing into coastal waters creating sluggish dirty slurry. The collapse comes from melting permafrost caused by waves crashing into the shoreline, working its way into the ice. The dirty slurry affects the coastal marine life, but it’s not just the coastal waters scientists are worried about, it’s also about those on land.

Credit: © Accent Alaska.com/Alamy

The ecological and biodiversity concerns in the Arctic are not just about the polar bears’ loss of native habitat, it affects humans too. Most native Inupiat live along the coast, making their living hunting coastal marine mammals and fish. All have seen their coastline slowly vanish into the sea and they worry about their homes also seeing the same fate. Many fear they will need to relocate, possibly destroying native heritage.
Why is this happening? Collapsing shorelines is not new, but the rate at which they are collapsing are. The more sea ice that melts, the bigger the waves, and as those bigger waves crash into the coastline, they drag out more melted permafrost soil into the sea, creating more sea ice melt, and the process feeds onto itself.

“The coast’s protective blanket may never recover,” says James Overland, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. “The Arctic really is the canary in the coal mine for global change.”
It is not yet predicted what this onslaught of dirty slurry is doing to the marine life along the Arctic coastlines. There is evidence that they are ingesting it, but what it is doing to them is not yet known. If this warming trend does not slow down it is predicted that nearly all sea ice will melt each summer by 2037. The Arctic climate and ice impacts not just the north, it also affects the rest of the globe.

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Blog author: Kimberly Warren