A team of researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, examined high- resolution air and satellite photos from 1951 to 2012, combining the results with four years’ worth of on-the-ground data. Over the period of investigation, temperatures exceeded 0°C on an average of 110 days per year; however, in 2010 and 2011, the temperature rose above freezing on 127 days, and in 2012, the figure increased to 134.
This increase in temperature has reduced the amount of sea ice in the region. ‘During the past two decades, there were, on average, fewer than 80 ice-free days in this region per year,’ said one of the study’s authors, Paul Overduin. ‘During the past three years, however, we counted 96 ice-free days on average. Thus, the waves can nibble at the permafrost coasts for about two more weeks each year.’
This, in turn, has led to increased erosion. Over the past 40 years, the areas surveyed retreated on average 2.2 metres per year. ‘During the past four years, this value has increased at least 1.6 times; in certain instances up to 2.4 times to reach 5.3 metres per year,’ said Overduin.
This story was published in the December 2013 edition of Geographical Magazine