Based on information collected while monitoring Eastern Siberia's coastline over the past four decades, scientists with the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research have determined that coastal erosion in this part of the world has nearly doubled in only a few years.
By the looks of it, climate change and global warming are to blame for this phenomenon.
The researchers say that, as several previous studies have shown, global warming has thus far caused both a shrinkage in the annual ice coverage in the Arctic, and an increase in the annual summer temperatures recorded in the Russian permafrost.
Since Eastern Siberia's high cliffs are chiefly made of permafrost, it need not come as a surprise that, as local temperatures gradually increase, erosion rates also go haywire.
“If the average temperature rises by 1 degree Celsius in the summer, erosion accelerates by 1.2 meters (almost 4 feet) annually,” explains geographer Frank Günther.
The researchers say that, from 1951 until 2009, local temperatures in this part of the world exceeded zero degrees Celsius for an average of 110 days per year. However, in the years 2010 and 2011, 127 days were counted as having temperatures above zero. In 2012, the number spiked to 134.
Noteworthy changes have also been reported in local sea ice coverage.
“During the past two decades, there were, on average, fewer than 80 ice-free days in this region per year. During the past three years, however, we counted 96 ice-free days on average. Thus, the waves can nibble at the permafrost coasts for approximately two more weeks each year,” specialist Paul Overduin explains.
Specialists estimate that, over the past 40 years, Eastern Siberia's coastline has lost an average of 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) on a yearly basis. It was during the past four years that things took a turn for the worse.
As Paul Overduin explains, “During the past four years, this value has increased at least 1.6 times, in certain instances up to 2.4 times to reach 5.3 meters (17.4 feet) per year.”
Scientists say that, in just a few centuries, these changes are very likely to lead to the complete destruction of the small island of Muostakh east of the Lena Delta.
“In fewer than one hundred years, the island will break up into several sections, and then it will disappear quickly,” specialist Frank Günther believes.