Study: How climate change is destroying Arctic coastlines

21 February 2022
Hamburg-based researchers have for the first time calculated future land losses for the entire Arctic region. These are the results

The scientists are agreed: Climate change is causing the ground to thaw and the sea ice to melt in the Arctic. The result is that coastlines are less well protected and are being washed away. This erosion is endangering important infrastructure and threatening people’s lives in the region. The extent and rapidity of the changes has not been clear to date. University of Hamburg researchers have now for the first time calculated these processes for the entire Arctic region using a new combination of computational models. They have come to the conclusion that every degree of warming rapidly accelerates these changes. 

Erosion in the Arctic: Every degree counts

“We have done the calculations for various scenarios, depending on how much in the way of greenhouse gaseshumankind will release over the years ahead,” David Nielsen, the lead author of the study, reports. In the event of unmitigated emissions of greenhouse gases, the rate of erosion of Arctic coastlines could more than double by 2100, according to these calculations. It would then total up to three metres per year on average across the entire Arctic. There is in addition the threat of a devastating loop: Increased quantities of carbon from the soil would end up in the ocean as a result of the additional erosion, which could in turn boost the climate change effect.

Nielsen emphasises: “Our results also show that a shift to greater sustainability and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions could slow down this acceleration in the second half of the century.” However, the loss of landmass cannot be halted in its entirety.

Erosion in the Arctic

Study generates important information for protecting coastlines

The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Climate Change in mid-February. Apart from the University of Hamburg, the participating institutions included the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, and the German Meteorological Service. According to the team, the aim of the research is to benefit coastal protection and political and social planning in the affected regions. 

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