Research design

Coastal erosion research underway in Bristol Bay

Erosion of a cliff above Kanakanak Beach May 28, 2021 in Dillingham, Alaska. (UAF/GI Photo by Chris Maio.)

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – Students from the University of Alaska Fairbanks will return to Bristol Bay communities to continue quantifying and mapping widespread coastal erosion.

Students from the UAF Geophysical Institute’s Arctic Coastal Geoscience Lab have been conducting this research in the region since 2016.

“The data we collect is generally the only data that exists for these areas,” said Associate Professor Chris Maio, who oversees the research at the Arctic Coastal Geoscience Lab.

A statement from the university said the work of Maio and the students adds to the knowledge of Alaska Native elders and others about coastal change and provides key insights to make better-informed community decisions.

The program is a partnership between the Coastal Hazards Program of the Alaska Geological and Geophysical Surveys Division, Alaska Sea Grant and the Bristol Bay Native Association.

Funding comes from the state, the National Science Foundation, the Alaska Sea Grant and, through local tribal environmental programs, the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Maio illustrates the importance of the program by pointing to Dillingham, where the Nushagak River vigorously eats away at cliffs and threatens infrastructure.

Erosion along the mouth of the river has brought the edge of the cliff about 120 feet from the Kanakanak Hospital Wastewater Lagoon, which serves the wider Bristol Bay area. Nearly 7 feet of land falls each year.

The town of Dillingham’s sewage lagoon is just under 400 feet from the edge of the cliff, which is eroding at a much faster rate of about 20 feet per year.

“We’ve documented the annual changes that happen in front of Dillingham’s sewage lagoon, and that helps them decide what to do,” Maio said. “They have to spend millions.”

“The lack of data is a big problem,” he said. “It’s a big problem, because you can’t do much planning if you don’t know what the tides are doing and what the wave regime is.”

Data obtained by Maio and the students strengthens a community’s grant proposals and gives engineers a head start in other phases of the project.

“If they didn’t have the data, then all they have is their word, or anecdotal evidence, which isn’t always good enough for engineering assessments,” Roberta Glenn said. , a master’s student in geography who is also interning at the Alaska Division. geological and geophysical surveys and spent three summers working in the field with the UAF division and laboratory.

“Climate change is affecting the Bristol Bay region, with erosion impacting our infrastructure, culture, fishing and burial sites,” said CaSandera Johnson, environmental program manager for the Bristol Bay Native Association. . “Results of this collaboration, such as erosion mapping and risk assessments, will be used to secure funding to address erosion impacts.”

An example is at Pilot Point, a community on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula on Ugashik Bay.

UAF students help document erosion on the road to the waterfront bulkhead, where a crane is currently unloading fish. They also monitor erosion at the bulkhead itself and provide other information to engineers.

The work of Maio and the ACGL team has reinvigorated road engineering, feasibility and design studies by the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Transportation, said project consultant Daniel Kingsley. for the Pilot Point Tribal Council.