New research has found that the frozen coastline of a Canadian Arctic is collapsing at alarming rates. Up to 1 metre of the historically significant island’s coastline is disintegrating every day, which is up to six times the average of the previous 65 years.
Herschel Island, which is also known as Qikiqtaruk, lies off the Yukon coast in the Canadian Arctic. Although it has had no human inhabitants since 1987, it has an extensive and significant history as a settlement for Indigenous people, as well as a community for European and American whalers in the 1800s.
The island received ‘Endangered’ status in 2008, when the World Monuments Fund placed it on their 100 Most Endangered Sites list, citing rising sea levels, eroding coastline and melting permafrost as imminent threats. According to new research revealed by CTV News, the historic island is further threatened by the highest rates of coastal erosion seen in the area in decades.
The research was conducted by an international team of researchers, government scientists, local park rangers and Arctic community members who used drone cameras to survey the 116-square kilometre island.
The island was mapped seven times over 40 days in 2017 and computer models based from drone photos were built. The finalised models showed extensive evidence of the coast falling away at an astonishing rate of 14.5 metres across the research period.
Isla Myers-Smith, co-author of the study and a University of Edinburgh geoscientist, said “Big chunks of land were breaking away and waves were eating them away. They were often gone by the next day.”
This significant erosion, which was sometimes shown to be up to 1 metre a day, was then compared with results from surveys taken in previous decades. This comparison showed that the new rate was more than six times the historical average for the area.
The study team, which included researchers from Germany, England, the United States and Canada, concluded that the rapid destruction of the coastline is due to the warming climate. As the summer storms that pull away the coast are around for longer, the island is subjected to the harsh conditions for an almost unbearable amount of time.
In their article, published in The Cryosphere, the researchers explaining that the sea ice melts earlier and re-forms around the island later than it used to, due to climate change. Myers-Smith noted that while coastal erosion is natural and inevitable, documenting these rising rates is still extremely important.
The island remains on the World Monuments Fund's 100 Most Endangered Sites list, and will continue to be studied by research teams to monitor the erosion in the coming months.