Aerial Photography as a Tool to Document Coastal Change Along Eroding Shorelines in Northern Alaska
Abstract:Chronic and widespread coastal erosion along the northern coast of Alaska is threatening traditional lifestyles, sensitive ecosystems, energy and defense related infrastructure, and large tracts of Native Alaskan, State, and Federally managed land. Recent USGS historical shoreline position studies have documented shoreline change rates along most of northern Alaska for the period from 1947 to circa 2000. Rates vary from an erosional high of -18.6 m/yr along vulnerable bluffed coasts, to accretion up to +10.9 m/yr along prograding sand-rich coasts (average rate for entire study area is -1.4 m/yr). The historical analysis gives valuable information regarding long-term rates of change but does not provide details on the timing and processes driving the change.
Oblique and vertical aerial photography contains valuable coastal information on such things as bluff failure mechanisms, presence or absence of shorefast ice, beach characteristics including erosional scarps and ice-push ridges, wrack lines produced during storm surge events, and habitat identification. Recent advances in digital photogrammetry applied to oblique aerial photography can be used to construct high quality DEMs at a relatively low cost. Repeat aerial surveys and resultant DEM construction serve as a potential monitoring tool that can be used to quantify volumetric change, and, if conducted frequently enough, provide insights into the mechanisms responsible for coastal change in the Arctic. We provide examples from a few selected sites in northern Alaska where oblique aerial photography has been used to better understand coastal change in remote and threatened areas.