Arctic coast 2020

This is a very belated post but hey, better late than never. In September 2020 I had a very unique opportunity to contribute data and imagery to a couple of climate change monitoring projects led by researchers from Northumbria University in the UK and the Geological Survey of Canada. Due to covid-19 related travel restrictions a regular field season was not possible last year. After a Skype crash course in basic photogrammetry and dust sampling (yes, that’s a thing) I spent four days on the Arctic coast taking photos, collecting samples, and shooting timelapses of sites of interest from a helicopter that were later used to create 3D models that allow for tracking the progression of coastal erosion, as well as forecasting future changes in the landscape. 


Continuity in data collecting is crucial for effective monitoring and forecasting, and it allows coastal communities like Tuktoyaktuk to make well informed decisions in the face of climate warming and environmental changes that come with it. You can learn more about coastal erosion in the Beaufort Sea coastal region here. The video below is a tiny sample of an image sequence shot over Hooper Island. Hooper was one of the most visually striking sites I photographed last year. The sense of scale is hard to convey in the open tundra - the biggest slump shown in the video below is roughly the size of three football fields.  




Below is a small selection of images from sites affected by coastal erosion and permafrost degradation across the the Mackenzie Delta (see captions for exact locations). The outer islands of the Delta are some of the fastest eroding areas in this part of the world. Pelly Island disappears at an average annual rate of over 20m a year, and the windward sections pictured below recede over 40m a year. It is double the observed erosion rate compared to before 2000. One of the biggest contributing factors to the accelerated rate of erosion is the increasingly shorter sea ice season. The lack of protection leaves the shore exposed to wind and waves for a longer period of time. 

Pelly Island

Pelly Island

Pelly Island

Pelly Island - up close and personal with thawing permafrost

Pit stop at Yaya Lakes

Hooper Island

Crumbling Point

Pullen Island


One of the high priority sites for this project was Peninsula Point. It’s a part of the Pingo National Landmark, a protected area nearby the community of Tuktoyaktuk, co-managed by Parks Canada, the Inuvialuit Land Administration, and the people of Tuktoyaktuk. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be allowed to document that site on a regular basis since 2018. The screenshots below show an actual 3D model of Peninsula Point made with roughly 260 images shot from a helicopter (click on the images to enlarge), followed by some photos of shore erosion and permafrost slumping at the same site, and a couple of behind the scenes shots. In this area the ground consists of frozen silt, sand, organic matter, and up to 90% ice that holds it all together. That’s why this environment is so incredibly fragile and prone to erosion, and you can often see very significant changes in the landscape unfold over weeks, or even days, especially during major weather events.

Screenshot of a 3D model of Peninsula Point. Image courtesy of Dr Mike Lim, Faculty of Engineering and Environment, Northumbria University.

Screenshot of a 3D model of Peninsula Point. Image courtesy of Dr Mike Lim, Faculty of Engineering and Environment, Northumbria University.



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