Arctic coastlines are crumbling away and retreating at the rate of two metres or more a year due to the effects of climate change. In some locations, up to 30 metres of the shore has been vanishing every year.
The rapid rate of coastal erosion poses a major threat to local communities and ecosystems, according to a new report by more than 30 scientists from 10 countries. Rising temperatures are melting protective sea ice fringing the coastlines, leaving them more exposed to the elements, the experts say.
The report, State of the Arctic Coast 2010, says 10-year average rates of coastal retreat are "typically in the one to two metres per year range, but vary up to 10 to 30 metres per year in some locations". Worst-hit areas include the Beaufort Sea, the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea.
The study, led by scientists from the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), is published online and in the journal Estuaries and Coasts.
Information from more than 100,000km of Arctic coastline was collected for the report.
The scientists stressed that the coastal habitats were the prime lifeline for Arctic communities, supporting a large population of fish, birds and mammals including an estimated 500 million seabirds.