Adios, Alaska

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Should we bid “bye-bye” to Alaska?

According to recent research, part of Alaska’s coastline is eroding by up to 45 feet (14 m) a year. The study was presented at this week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The section of coastline lies between Point Barrow and Prudhoe Bay and consists of 12-foot-high (3.5 m) cliffs. The trouble is, the cliffs consist of frozen silt and peat with up to 80 percent ice. Warm seawater and large waves literally melt away the cliffs at their base during the summer months, with the silt and peat washed out to sea.

“What we are seeing now is a triple whammy effect,” explained University of Colorado–Boulder’s Robert Anderson, a scientist on the study. “Since the summer Arctic sea ice cover continues to decline and Arctic air and sea temperatures continue to rise, we really don’t see any prospect for this process ending.” Anderson’s team used time-lapse photography to drive their point home. The resulting video is available from the university.

While the takeaway for Anderson’s team concerns global warming, we’re more interested in the rate of erosion and what it indicates about the speed of geologic processes. Granted, the icy composition of the Alaskan cliffs enhances their destruction. Still, as Anderson pointed out, “Even something 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] away could be dumped into the sea in a matter of years.” The research reminds us that even in nature today, geologic forces can operate in a matter of just weeks and months—far less than millions of years. How much faster could the world change during the year-long, global catastrophe of Noah’s Flood?

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