Effective monitoring of permafrost coast erosion: Wide-scale storm impacts on outer islands in the Mackenzie Delta area

Michael Lim*, Dustin Whalen, Paul Mann, Paul Fraser, Heather B. Berry, Charlotte Irish, Kendyce Cockney, John Woodward

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


Permafrost coasts are extensive in scale and complex in nature, resulting in particular challenges for understanding how they respond to both long-term shifts in climate and short-term extreme weather events. Taking examples from the Canadian Beaufort Sea coastline characterised by extensive areas of massive ground ice within slump and block failure complexes, we conduct a quantitative analysis of the practical performance of helicopter-based photogrammetry. The results demonstrate that large scale (>1 km2) surface models can be achieved at comparable accuracy to standard UAV surveys, but 36 times faster. Large scale models have greater potential for progressive alignment and contrast issues and so breaking down image sequences into coherent chunks has been found the most effective technique for accurate landscape reconstructions. The approach has subsequently been applied in a responsive acquisition immediately before and after a large storm event and during conditions (wind gusts >50 km hr-1) that would have prohibited UAV data acquisition. Trading lower resolution surface models for large scale coverage and more effective responsive monitoring, the helicopter-based data have been applied to assess storm driven-change across the exposed outer islands of the Mackenzie Delta area for the first time. These data show that the main storm impacts were concentrated on exposed North orientated permafrost cliff sections (particularly low cliffs, >20 m in height) where cliff recession was 43% of annual rates and in places up to 29% of the annual site-wide erosion volume was recorded in this single event. In contrast, the thaw-slump complexes remained relatively unaffected, debris flow fans were generally more resistant to storm erosion than the ice-rich cliffs, perhaps due to the relatively low amounts of precipitation that occurred. Therefore, the variability of permafrost coast erosion rates is controlled by interactions between both the forcing conditions and local response mechanisms. Helicopter-based photogrammetric surveys have the potential to effectively analyse these controls with greater spatial and temporal consistency across more representative scales and resolutions than has previously been achieved, improving the capacity to adequately constrain and ultimately project future Arctic coast sensitivity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number561322
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2020


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