Short- and long-term thermo-erosion of ice-rich permafrost coasts in the Laptev Sea region
Permafrost coasts in the Arctic are susceptible to a variety of changing environmental factors all of which currently point to increasing coastal erosion rates and mass fluxes of sediment and carbon to the shallow arctic shelf seas. Rapid erosion along high yedoma coasts composed of Ice Complex permafrost deposits creates impressive coastal ice cliffs and inspired research for designing and implementing change detection studies for a long time, but continuous quantitative monitoring and a qualitative inventory of coastal thermo-erosion for large coastline segments is still lacking. Our goal is to use observations of thermo-erosion along the mainland coast of the Laptev Sea, in eastern Siberia, to understand how it depends on coastal geomorphology and the relative contributions of water level and atmospheric drivers. We compared multi-temporal sets of orthorectified satellite imagery from 1965 to 2011 for three segments of coastline ranging in length from 73 to 95 km and analyzed thermo-denudation (TD) along the cliff top and thermo-abrasion (TA) along the cliff bottom for two nested time periods: long-term rates (the past 39–43 yr) and short-term rates (the past 1–4 yr). The Normalized Difference Thermo-erosion Index (NDTI) was used as a proxy to qualitatively describe the relative proportions of TD and TA. Mean annual erosion rates at all three sites were higher in recent years (−5.3 ± 1.3 m a −1) than over the long-term mean (−2.2 ± 0.1 m a −1). The Mamontov Klyk coast exhibits primarily spatial variations of thermo-erosion, while intrasite-specific variations caused by local relief were strongest at the Buor Khaya coast, where the slowest long-term rates of around −0.5 ± 0.1 m a −1 were observed. The Oyogos Yar coast showed continuously rapid erosion up to −6.5 ± 0.2 m a −1. In general, variable characteristics of coastal thermo-erosion were observed not only between study sites and over time, but also within single coastal transects along the cliff profile. Varying intensities of cliff bottom and top erosion are leading to diverse qualities of coastal erosion that have different impacts on coastal mass fluxes. The different extents of Ice Complex permafrost degradation within our study sites turned out to influence not only the degree of coupling between TD and TA, and the magnitude of effectively eroded volumes, but also the quantity of organic carbon released to the shallow Laptev Sea from coastal erosion, which ranged on a long-term from 88 ± 21 to 800 ± 61 t per km coastline per year and will correspond to considerably higher amounts, if recently observed more rapid coastal erosion rates prove to be persistent.