Arctic rock coast responses under a changing climate

Michael Lim, Mateusz Strzelecki, Marek Kasprzak, Zuzanna Swirad, John Woodward, Herdis Gjelten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


It has been widely reported that Arctic sea ice has decreased in both extent and thickness, coupled with steadily rising mean annual temperatures. These trends have been particularly severe along the rock coast of southern Svalbard. Concerns have been raised over the potential for higher energy storms and longer ice-free open water seasons to increase the exposure of Arctic coasts, and consequently the concentration of infrastructure critical to Arctic community survival, to enhanced rates of erosion. Here we present and apply innovative remote sensing, monitoring and process analyses to assess the impact of recent coastal climatic changes. High resolution analyses demonstrate that the small scale (<0.001 m 3) changes that are rarely considered quantitatively exhibit geomorphic responses distinct from those of larger, more readily detected cliff failures. We monitor temperature depth profiles in both the shore platform and the cliff face to show rock sensitivity over time to both global and local influences. The results demonstrate the efficacy of thermal processes on Arctic rock cliffs relative to platforms, and may hold implications for understanding strandflat development rates. New three-dimensional thermography (thermal mapping) and process zone characterisation has been used to spatially assess the sensitivity of Arctic rock coast responses to contemporary processes on deglaciating coasts. Through the spatial and temporal analyses of key geomorphic behaviour zones and comparison over a range of sites, the complex and changing interplay between subaerial weathering and cryogenic and intertidal processes has been highlighted. These data challenge long standing assumptions over the future of Arctic rock coasts and identify new, focused lines of enquiry on the decline in cryogenic processes and understanding the sensitivity of Arctic rock coasts to climatic changes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111500
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Early online date22 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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