UW News

November 5, 2019

Fall storms, coastal erosion focus of northern Alaska research cruise

UW News

[The video above was filmed after the researchers returned, and includes footage from the November 2019 research cruise.]

A University of Washington team is leaving to study how fall storms, dwindling sea ice and vulnerable coastlines might combine in a changing Arctic. The project leaves Thursday, Nov. 7, from Nome, Alaska in the Bering Strait to spend four weeks gathering data during the fall freeze-up season.

Arctic map with numbers

The team will start at site 1, then on to sites 2 and 3. At each site the researchers will sample at specific distances from the coast.University of Alaska Fairbanks

The team aboard the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ research vessel Sikuliaq will begin sampling Nov. 8 at Icy Cape, a barrier island to the west of Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow. Then the team will continue farther into the Arctic to sample near Flaxman Island, off the northwest tip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the week of Nov. 11.  The team will also sample off Jones Islands, west of Prudhoe Bay. The ship is expected back in Dutch Harbor on Dec. 2.

This past September, the extent of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean was one of the smallest extents ever recorded. As of late October, the sea ice is at the smallest area ever recorded for this time of year. One concern is what these changes will mean for coastal erosion and fall flooding in low-lying areas.

“After another near-record low in Arctic sea ice this summer, we are loading up for an expedition to learn how the ice returns in the autumn — and whether or not it returns in time to protect the Arctic coastlines from the fall storms,” said principal investigator Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory and a faculty member of civil and environmental engineering.

The project, Coastal Ocean Dynamics in the Arctic, or CODA, will look at how water currents shift and waves hit the coast with more open water, to provide better forecasts and predictions for the region’s future.

Outreach plans include regular field updates on the website, Ice in Motion, and the project page. The team will also host livestream events from onboard the Sikuliaq: one targeted at classrooms, on Nov. 13 at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, and one open to the general public, on Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. Pacific Time. Both livestream events are free; sign up here.

“These observations will provide an opportunity to closely study the role of coastal sea ice in dissipating wind-generated waves in the Arctic Ocean,” said co-principal investigator Nirnimesh Kumar, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “The ongoing reduction in seasonal ice cover in the Arctic Ocean may cause enhanced wave activity along the northern Alaskan coast, contributing to rapid coastal erosion and local flooding issues.”

Partners include the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and the U.S. National Ice Center. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

freight shipping container in foreground and research ship in background

The team loads the research vessel Sikuliaq on Oct. 26 in Newport, Oregon. The shipping container in the foreground, labeled Thomson / APL-UW, contains the instruments that will be used during the expedition.John Guillote


For more information, contact Thomson at jthomson@apl.washington.edu or 206-616-0858.