Hawaii & Alaska
Homes along the Arctic Ocean in Barrow, Alaska. IMAGE: ANDREI/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Disappearing into the sea: Exploring permafrost coastal erosion in the Arctic

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The remote town of Barrow, Alaska, home to more than 4,000 people, touts picturesque views of the Arctic Ocean as well as an unparalleled connection to the Alaskan wild, but underneath its stunning beauty lies a major global crisis — permafrost coastal erosion — causing Barrow to gradually slip into the sea.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, causing ice to melt and sea levels to rise, according to "Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA)," an update to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. This rise is threatening the entire town of Barrow as well as the surrounding communities. In fact, it has gotten so bad that former North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta called Barrow “ground zero for climate-change science.”

But all may not be lost, thanks to research funded by a four-year National Science Foundation grant and led by Ming Xiao, associate professor in civil engineering at Penn State.