Narratives of Shoreline Erosion and Protection at Shishmaref, Alaska: The Anecdotal and the Analytical

  • Owen K. MasonEmail author
  • James W. Jordan
  • Leanne Lestak
  • William F. Manley
Part of the Coastal Research Library book series (COASTALRL, volume 3)


Mitigating, or adapting to, the impacts of environmental change on coastal landscapes, from both social and engineering perspectives, requires accurate baseline data that must be related to geomorphic processes. However, the inherent social and environmental dynamics of the coastal zone set up a contentious situation for decision makers and researchers because of the real, perceived, and stochastic nature of catastrophic threats to human life and property loss. Anecdotal accounts and first person observations generally propel the media and influence governmental policy far more effectively than scientific data. However, claims of extreme erosion rates are more adequately addressed through photogrammetric studies of erosion. Contrary to anecdotal accounts from Shishmaref, Alaska, sequential aerial photographs from 1950 to 2007 reveal that erosion has increased on the south-facing shores of the Chukchi Sea, while prior to 1977, erosion was higher on the north-facing shores such as Shishmaref. In addition, comparisons of property records indicate that high rates of erosion prevailed prior to 1950. Several engineering solutions were attempted in Shishmaref between 1983 and 2003, including gabions and cinder block/boulder/cobble revetments, leading to increased end-around erosion downdrift and an erosion rate twice that of undeveloped, unarmored shorelines. To adapt to heightened erosion rates, societies should either retreat from the shore or confront ever-increasing engineering costs.


Erosion Rate Storm Surge Barrier Island Shoreline Change Tidal Inlet 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Owen K. Mason
    • 1
    Email author
  • James W. Jordan
    • 2
  • Leanne Lestak
    • 1
  • William F. Manley
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Arctic and Alpine ResearchUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Studies ProgramAntioch University New EnglandKeeneUSA

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