Collecting Baseline Biological and Geologic Data to Understand Coastal Change at the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska
Climate change impacts, including coastal erosion, reduction in sea ice, and thawing of permafrost, are impacting Bering Land Bridge National Preserve (BELA) and Cape Krusenstern National Monument (CAKR) along the northwestern Alaska coast. The parks need baseline information and an updated evaluation of coastal resource vulnerabilities in order to make prudent management decisions related to increased marine traffic, sensitive areas, and natural and cultural resource protection.
Climate change impacts are affecting park resources in several ways. Increasing ocean temperatures are causing a reduction in the summer sea ice extent in the Chukchi Sea. This in turn delays the winter return of the ice and the coastal protection that it provides the northwest Alaska coastline. The resulting increase in storm erosion, combined with the thawing of permafrost, has accelerated the erosion of BELA and CAKR coastal natural resources and cultural sites. The barrier islands supporting the village of Shishmaref and Kivalina are also eroding, and residents are considering relocation to inland sites: Shishmaref to interior Shishmaref Inlet, within the lagoon system that is hydrodynamically connected to the BELA lagoons; and Kivalina to the mainland with a road connection to the CAKR Red Dog Mine port site.
The reduction in ice along the Arctic coastline also has allowed oil development and marine traffic to increase, raising the potential for marine incidents with associated environmental ramifications. Marine traffic has significantly increased because the only connection between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans is the Bering Strait adjacent to BELA and just south of CAKR. This transit point is of high value because the northern sea routes significantly reduce the travel distance between Europe and Asia, creating significant cost savings. The US Coast Guard and US Army Corps of Engineers are currently evaluating sites for a deep water port in the Arctic, and the current preferred site is Port Clarence on the southern side of the Bering Strait, a short distance south of BELA.
National Park Service (NPS) climate change scenario planning has been done for both parks. The NPS Arctic Network Inventory and Monitoring Program is developing long-term monitoring protocols for coastal erosion and lagoon biology, and is already engaged in climate monitoring. Datasets continue to be developed that will enhance understanding of climate change vulnerability in these parks. Datasets include coastal erosion (using satellite and aerial imagery from 1954–2003 and satellite imagery including 2013 data), LiDAR (topographic) coverage of both parks (2003), and improved accuracy of coastal maps (2013). A one-year ShoreZone mapping project was conducted that included coastal orthophotography and maps of intertidal biotic components, geomorphology, and coastal hazard areas along the BELA and CAKR coastlines (2012 and 2013). Projects supported by the park and the Alaska regional office have included post-breeding bird surveys in BELA (2013) and CAKR (2014), lagoon water mass budgets in BELA (2013), permanent marine debris monitoring sites in BELA (2013) and CAKR (2014), and a coastal survey of at risk cultural sites (2012 and 2013).
Outcomes and Conclusions
Significant outstanding data needs include lagoonal water quality, hydrodynamics, and bathymetry; lower trophic level seasonality, distributions, and densities; further surveys to identify locations of cultural sites at risk; subsistence needs and restrictions; and political and jurisdictional boundaries. Additional challenges are presented by the difficulty in obtaining funding to conduct work along this coastal region; the extensive land area needing study; and the logistics of reaching these remote parks.
This case study is part of the 2015 National Park Service report, Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies. These case studies initially were developed by park managers as part of a NPS-led coastal adaptation training in May 2012. The case studies follow the format created for EcoAdapt’s Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) database, including a list of adaptation strategies. All case studies were updated and modified in September 2013 and March 2015 in response to a growing number of requests from coastal parks and other coastal management agencies looking for examples of climate change adaptation strategies for natural and cultural resources and assets along their ocean, lacustrine, and riverine coasts.
Jones, T. (2015). Collecting Baseline Biological and Geologic Data to Understand Coastal Change at the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska [Case study on a project of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Cape Krusenstern National Monument]. Excerpted from Schupp, C.A., R.L. Beavers, and M.A. Caffrey [eds.]. 2015. Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies. NPS 999/129700. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/collecting-baseline-biological-and-geologic-…;(Last updated November 2015)