University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have launched a pilot project to collect new data about the severe winter storms that are slowly claiming several erosion-ravaged Northwest Alaska villages.
Nick Konefal, a research engineer at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, deployed storm-surge sensors in the past several weeks in the communities of Kivalina, Shaktoolik and Shishmaref. All three villages are threatened by coastal erosion, much of it caused when winter storms push powerful waves onto shore.
Climate change and shrinking sea ice have been blamed for boosting the frequency of winter storms, but specific data is limited. Through the Rapid Deployment Inundation Platforms project, researchers hope to better understand the amount of surging water that reaches land and its effect on local erosion.
"These are small communities, and they know every square inch of the land," Konefal said. "If you talk to locals they say the storms are getting bigger, but there's not a lot of data out there."
Tripod-mounted sensors were planted near the water line in each community, and will be activated to collect data during the peak winter storm months of October, November and December. The Alaska Ocean Observing System project is being managed by ACEP and organizations in each village.
If the data collected this season is useful, researchers would like to add sensors in coastal lagoons and upgrade to more sophisticated equipment in future winters, Konefal said.
Konefal said the ultimate goal of the project is to better predict winter storms and their potential for damage.
"If the storms are getting bigger, we want to know what's happening," he said.