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  1. Abstract

    Globally, coastal communities experience flood hazards that are projected to worsen from climate change and sea level rise. The 100-year floodplain or record flood are commonly used to identify risk areas for planning purposes. Remote communities often lack measured flood elevations and require innovative approaches to estimate flood elevations. This study employs observation-based methods to estimate the record flood elevation in Alaska communities and compares results to elevation models, infrastructure locations, and sea level rise projections. In 46 analyzed communities, 22% of structures are located within the record floodplain. With sea level rise projections, this estimate increases to 30–37% of structures by 2100 if structures remain in the same location. Flood exposure is highest in western Alaska. Sea level rise projections suggest northern Alaska will see similar flood exposure levels by 2100 as currently experienced in western Alaska. This evaluation of record flood height, category, and history can be incorporated into hazard planning documents, providing more context for coastal flood exposure than previously existed for Alaska. This basic flood exposure method is transferable to other areas with similar mapping challenges. Identifying current and projected hazardous zones is essential to avoid unintentional development in floodplains and improve long-term safety.

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  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  3. Diminishing sea ice is impacting the wave field across the Arctic region. Recent observation and model-based studies highlight the spatiotemporal influence of sea ice on offshore wave climatologies, but effects within the nearshore region are still poorly described. This study characterizes the wave climate in the central Beaufort Sea coast from 1979 to 2019 by utilizing a wave hindcast model that uses ERA5 winds, waves, and ice concentrations as input. The spectral wave model SWAN is calibrated and validated based on more than 10,000 in situ measurements collected over a 13-year time period across the region, with friction variations and empirical coefficients for newly implemented empirical ice formulations for the open water season. Model results and trends are analyzed over the 41-year time period using the non-parametric Mann-Kendall test, including an estimate of Sen’s slope. The model results show that the reduction of sea ice concentration correlates strongly with increases in average and extreme wave conditions. In particular, the open water season extended by ~96 days over the 41-year time period (~2.4 days/yr), resulting in a five-fold increase of the yearly cumulative wave power. Moreover, the open water season extends later into the year, resulting in relatively open-water conditions during fall storms with high wind speeds. The later freeze-up results in an increase of the annual offshore median wave heights of 1% per year and an increase in the average number of rough wave days (defined as days when maximum wave heights exceed 2.5 m) from 1.5 in 1979 to 13.1 days in 2019. Trends in the nearshore areas deviate from the patterns offshore. Model results indicate a non-breaking depth induced saturation limit for high wave heights in the shallow areas of Foggy Island Bay. Similar patterns are found for yearly cumulative wave power. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Observational data of coastal change over much of the Arctic are limited largely due to its immensity, remoteness, harsh environment, and restricted periods of sunlight and ice-free conditions. Barter Island, Alaska, is one of the few locations where an extensive, observational dataset exists, which enables a detailed assessment of the trends and patterns of coastal change over decadal to annual time scales. Coastal bluff and shoreline positions were delineated from maps, aerial photographs, and satellite imagery acquired between 1947 and 2020, and at a nearly annual rate since 2004. Rates and patterns of shoreline and bluff change varied widely over the observational period. Shorelines showed a consistent trend of southerly erosion and westerly extension of the western termini of Barter Island and Bernard Spit, which has accelerated since at least 2000. The 3.2 km long stretch of ocean-exposed coastal permafrost bluffs retreated on average 114 m and at a maximum of 163 m at an average long-term rate (70 year) of 1.6 ± 0.1 m/yr. The long-term retreat rate was punctuated by individual years with retreat rates up to four times higher (6.6 ± 1.9 m/yr; 2012–2013) and both long-term (multidecadal) and short-term (annual to semiannual) rates showed a steady increase in retreat rates through time, with consistently high rates since 2015. A best-fit polynomial trend indicated acceleration in retreat rates that was independent of the large spatial and temporal variations observed on an annual basis. Rates and patterns of bluff retreat were correlated to incident wave energy and air and water temperatures. Wave energy was found to be the dominant driver of bluff retreat, followed by sea surface temperatures and warming air temperatures that are considered proxies for evaluating thermo-erosion and denudation. Normalized anomalies of cumulative wave energy, duration of open water, and air and sea temperature showed at least three distinct phases since 1979: a negative phase prior to 1987, a mixed phase between 1987 and the early to late 2000s, followed by a positive phase extending to 2020. The duration of the open-water season has tripled since 1979, increasing from approximately 40 to 140 days. Acceleration in retreat rates at Barter Island may be related to increases in both thermodenudation, associated with increasing air temperature, and the number of niche-forming and block-collapsing episodes associated with higher air and water temperature, more frequent storms, and longer ice-free conditions in the Beaufort Sea. 
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  5. Abstract As the climate evolves over the next century, the interaction of accelerating sea level rise (SLR) and storms, combined with confining development and infrastructure, will place greater stresses on physical, ecological, and human systems along the ocean-land margin. Many of these valued coastal systems could reach “tipping points,” at which hazard exposure substantially increases and threatens the present-day form, function, and viability of communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems. Determining the timing and nature of these tipping points is essential for effective climate adaptation planning. Here we present a multidisciplinary case study from Santa Barbara, California (USA), to identify potential climate change-related tipping points for various coastal systems. This study integrates numerical and statistical models of the climate, ocean water levels, beach and cliff evolution, and two soft sediment ecosystems, sandy beaches and tidal wetlands. We find that tipping points for beaches and wetlands could be reached with just 0.25 m or less of SLR (~ 2050), with > 50% subsequent habitat loss that would degrade overall biodiversity and ecosystem function. In contrast, the largest projected changes in socioeconomic exposure to flooding for five communities in this region are not anticipated until SLR exceeds 0.75 m for daily flooding and 1.5 m for storm-driven flooding (~ 2100 or later). These changes are less acute relative to community totals and do not qualify as tipping points given the adaptive capacity of communities. Nonetheless, the natural and human built systems are interconnected such that the loss of natural system function could negatively impact the quality of life of residents and disrupt the local economy, resulting in indirect socioeconomic impacts long before built infrastructure is directly impacted by flooding. 
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