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Open–File Report 2015–1048

National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change Along the North Coast of Alaska, U.S.-Canadian Border to Icy Cape

By Ann E. Gibbs and Bruce M. Richmond

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (14.4 MB)Executive Summary

Beach erosion is a persistent problem along most open-ocean shores of the United States. Along the Arctic coast of Alaska, coastal erosion is widespread, may be accelerating, and is threatening defense and energy-related infrastructure, coastal habitats, and Native communities. As coastal populations continue to expand and infrastructure and habitat are increasingly threatened by erosion, there is increased demand for accurate information regarding past and present trends and rates of shoreline movement. There also is a need for a comprehensive analysis of shoreline change with metrics that are consistent from one coastal region to another. To meet these national needs, the U.S. Geological Survey is conducting an analysis of historical shoreline changes along the open-ocean sandy shores of the conterminous United States and parts of Hawaii, Alaska, and the Great Lakes. One purpose of this work is to develop standard, repeatable methods for mapping and analyzing shoreline change so that periodic, systematic, and internally consistent updates regarding coastal erosion and land loss can be made nationally.

This report on shoreline change along the north coast of Alaska, between the U.S.-Canadian border and Icy Cape, is one in a series of regionally focused reports on historical shoreline change. Previous investigations include analyses and descriptive reports for the coasts of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the Southeast Atlantic, California, the New England and Mid-Atlantic, portions of Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest coasts of Oregon and Washington.

Similar to the earlier reports in this series, this report summarizes the methods of analysis, documents and describes the results of the analysis, and explains historical trends and rates of shoreline change. This Alaska shoreline change assessment differs from previously published shoreline change assessments in that: (1) only two historical shorelines (from the 1940s and 2000s eras) were available for the Alaska study area whereas four or more shorelines (from 1850 to 2002) were available for the other assessments and, thus, only end-point rates for one long-term analysis period are reported here, compared to a combination of long-term and short-term rates as reported in other studies; (2) modern (2000s era) shorelines in this study represent a visually derived land-water interface position versus an elevation based, tidally referenced shoreline position; and (3) both exposed open-ocean and sheltered mainland-lagoon shorelines and rates of change are included in this study compared to other locations where only exposed open-ocean sandy shorelines or bluff edges were evaluated. No distinction was made between sand or gravel beaches, and the base of the unconsolidated coastal bluff was considered the shoreline where no fronting beach existed.

First posted June 30, 2015

For additional information, contact:
Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Pacific Science Center
400 Natural Bridges Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

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Suggested citation:

Gibbs, A.E., and Richmond, B.M., 2015, National assessment of shoreline change—Historical shoreline change along the north coast of Alaska, U.S.–Canadian border to Icy Cape: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1048, 96 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)


Executive Summary


Previous National and Northern Alaska Shoreline Assessments

Geology and Geomorphology of the North Coast of Alaska

Methods of Analyzing Shoreline Change

Historical Shoreline Change Analysis

Discussion and Additional Consideration


References Cited

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