Observing Muostakh Island disappear: erosion of a ground-ice-rich coast in response to summer warming and sea ice reduction on the East Siberian shelf

Frank.Guenther [ at ] awi.de


Observations of coastline retreat using contemporary very high resolution satellite and historical aerial imagery were compared to measurements of open water fractions and summer air temperatures. We analyzed seasonal and interannual variations of thawing-induced cliff top retreat (thermo-denudation) and marine abrasion (thermo-abrasion) on Muostakh Island in the southern central Laptev Sea. The island is composed of ground-ice-rich permafrost deposits of Ice Complex type that render it particularly susceptible to erosion along the coast, resulting in land loss. Based on topographic reference measurements during field campaigns, we generated digital elevation models using stereophotogrammetry, in order to block adjust and ortho-rectify aerial photographies from 1951 and GeoEye, QuickBird, WorldView-1, and WorldView-2 imagery from 2010 to 2012 for change detection. Coastline retreat for erosive segments ranged from −13 to −585 m and was −109 ± 81 m (–1.8 ± 1.3 m a−1) on average during the historical period. Current seasonal dynamics of cliff top retreat revealed rapid thermo-denudation rates of –10.2 ± 4.5 m a−1 in mid summer and –4.1 ± 2.0 m a−1 on average during the 2010–2012 observation period. Using sea ice concentration data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) and air temperature time series from Tiksi, we calculated seasonal duration available for thermo-abrasion, expressed as open water days, and for thermo-denudation, based on thawing degree days. Geomorphometric analysis revealed that total ground ice content on Muostakh is made up of equal amounts of intrasedimentary and macro ground ice, while its vertical hourglass distribution provides favorable local preconditions for subsidence and the acceleration of coastal thermo-erosion under intensifying environmental forcings. Our results showed a~close relationship between mean summer air temperature and coastal thermo-erosion rates, in agreement with observations made for various permafrost coastlines different from East Siberian Ice Complex coasts elsewhere in the Arctic. Seasonality and recent interannual variations of coastline retreat rates suggest that the combination of macro ground ice distribution in the ground and changes in enviromental forcing generate a cyclicity in coastal thermo-erosion, that is currently increasing in frequency.

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DOI 10.5194/tcd-7-4101-2013

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Günther, F. , Overduin, P. , Baranskaya, A. , Opel, T. and Grigoriev, M. N. (2013): Observing Muostakh Island disappear: erosion of a ground-ice-rich coast in response to summer warming and sea ice reduction on the East Siberian shelf , The Cryosphere Discussions, 7 , pp. 4101-4176 . doi: 10.5194/tcd-7-4101-2013

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