NSF CAREER: Deciphering storm-induced sediment dynamics and advancing science literacy in Indigenous communities

Research Technician Cheryl Kriska processes coastal change datasets within the ACGL (Photo by JR Ancheta)
This research project and website is funded through the National Science Foundation (OPP-1848542)











High energy extratropical cyclones with hurricane force winds have caused widespread devastation along the western Alaska coastline and warrant serious consideration given they can lead to catastrophic flooding and erosion within coastal villages, especially in relation to the recent decline in the duration and extent of sea ice. Increased documentation and mapping of real-time storm-related coastal processes coupled with long-term context provided by back-barrier sediment archives can significantly enhance planning and response strategies, minimizing loss of life and property associated with future storm surges. Although coastal flooding and erosion poses a serious threat to people and infrastructure on Arctic coastlines, there is disconnect between the education of affected Alaska Native stakeholders and the research and policy strategies that are directly impacting their futures. This has resulted in Alaska Natives being underrepresented in science fields and being at a disadvantage when making decisions regarding their community’s response to storm hazards. To address these research and education needs, the overarching goal of this research is to advance knowledge regarding contemporary, historical, and paleo-storm impacts in western Alaska while supporting informed decision making and increased research capacity in the Arctic. To achieve this goal, the Arctic Coastal Geoscience Lab (ACGL) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) will employ an innovative strategy that integrates research and education activities to increase the understanding of storm-related coastal sediment dynamics and its relationship to sea ice conditions. The research will be tightly coupled with a field- and lab-based education plan focused on building coastal science literacy to support informed decision-making.

During the research four sites will be instrumented to measure geomorphic, atmospheric, and hydrographic conditions during storm and non-storm periods. Real-time measurements and local citizen-scientist observations from four instrumented sites combined with remotely sensed sea ice data will enhance the understanding of coastal storm impacts and contribute towards determining the role sea ice plays in dampening the local and regional storm signal.  The establishment of storm observation sites will be coupled with a strategic sediment coring campaign to develop a paleo-proxy record of landfalling storm surges and other environmental changes occurring during the last ~2000 years.

Conceptual model of storm observation site to be established in field site communities
Location of field sites in western Alaska including St. Paul Island, Goodnews Bay, Safety Sound, and Cape Espenberg

A large network of field sites spanning a distance of over 1000 km include: Goodnews Bay to the southwest; St. Paul Island along the shelf break in the southern Bering Sea; Safety Sound, next to the City of Nome; and Cape Espenberg, a barrier beach system along the eastern Chukchi coast. The data will be integrated to map local sediment dynamics and geomorphic changes as well as aid in the development of a series of late Holocene paleo-proxy storm records. The proposed work will address the paucity in information regarding contemporary, historical, and paleo storm impacts in the Circumpolar North while simultaneously building coastal education and training opportunities for Alaska Native communities.

Graduate student Lindsey Smith samples sediments within the ACGL (Photo by JR Ancheta)