As the Arctic warms, northern Alaska has longer periods without near-shore sea ice, more frequent storms, and more intense storms. The result is often erosion. Across Alaska’s north coast, the average rate of erosion is 2.6 feet per year. Areas with extreme impacts are losing as much as 72 feet of land per year, one of the highest rates of shoreline retreat in the world. Coastal change isn’t limited to the far north, but knowledge gaps along Alaska’s 66,000 miles of shoreline make it difficult understanding the change and its impacts. The Alaska Coastal Mapping Initiative is on a mission to change that by creating a seamless modern map of the state’s coast by 2030. 

The initiative, a partnership between federal agencies and the State of Alaska, will gather data including topography of the land, depth of the ocean, and coastal vegetation. The knowledge will help scientists understand how Alaska’s coasts have changed in the past and how they may change moving forward. 

The resulting data can help decision makers mitigate impacts on communities threatened by flooding and erosion. It can help scientists predict habitat changes for walruses, shorebirds, and polar bears. It will also help Alaskans plan for the future. The data could make navigation through Arctic waters safer, enable coastal energy development, and protect coastal resources.  


Alexander Deedy formerly worked as the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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