Alarming erosion in Russian Arctic
The finding was made by glaciologist Alexander Aleynikov when preparing materials for the creation of a federal nature reserve on Vize Island. He compared pictures from 2009 and 2016 and found that the shoreline has changed significantly.
«The coasts of the Vize Island were being eroded before too, it is a natural process. However, in 1950's explorers observed average rate of coastal retreat about 1.5 m a year. And satellite images from 2009 to 2016 show that in this place the coastline moved back by 74 m. The speed up is very impressive,» says Aleynikov.
The rapid changes are associated primarily with the erosion of permafrost coasts by waves. The wave energy is directly related to the number of days in the summer season, when there is open water around the island. An analysis of Landsat satellite images over the past years has revealed an increase in the period of open water due to global warming. The satellite image from July 15, 2016 shows that there is no floating ice around the Vize Island at all.
«Previously it was thought that the greatest rate of destruction of the coast in Russia and in the world is on the New Siberian Islands, which are wearing away 5-15 meters a year, and sometimes - 20 m after a heavy storm. It is likely that on the Vize Island speed of the coast destruction is even higher. It is necessary to continue monitoring,» says Oksana Lipka, coordinator of the Climate and Energy Program, WWF Russia.
Warming air temperatures, sea level rise, and a longer ice-free period around the island are all associated with climate change, that is warming the Arctic at a rate twice the global average. The longer ice-free periods are attracting the attention of industry to the Arctic, adding stress to already stressed systems.
'Arctic islands, changing both under human influence and as a result of climate change, require close monitoring,” says Ivan Mizin, of WWF Russia’s Barents Office, WWF Russia. “Vize Island needs protection, primarily as a year-round habitat of the polar bear, Atlantic walrus and ivory gull. It’s at the junction of two seas and connects the populations of these species. We need to understand whether the reduction of the island territory affects these species and to what extent. That is why it is desirable to minimize the human impact here and create a nature reserve.”