Erosion Monitoring in Bristol Bay


Through a partnership among the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), the Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA), Alaska Sea Grant, and the Alaska Institute for Justice with funding from Alaska Sea Grant, The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a program that gives Alaska’s tribes the capacity to monitor erosion using a consistent standard and methodology.

Originally called Stakes for Stakeholders, the program began with a workshop about shoreline change monitoring methods for local volunteers around the Bristol Bay region, a site visit for stake installation with a time-lapse camera by university researchers, and synthesis of the photography and site measurements into useable figures and rates of shoreline change for each community involved. BBNA secured a BIA grant that expanded project participation from three to 10 communities, including seven coastal communities, two river communities and one lake community. BBNA worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a Quality Assurance Project Plan for the methodology, so that it can be included in an EPA Tribal General Assistance Program workplan.

The program uses low-technology equipment to lower program costs, incorporating time-lapse cameras with measurements from stakes in the ground. For communities with beachfronts, tribal staff are given Emery Rods (a simple rod and transfer method) to monitor the dynamic topography of the cross-shore elevation profile of the beach. The Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) and UAF survey each erosion monitoring site during installation of the rods to ensure the accuracy of continued monitoring. The combination of photographic evidence and ground measurements allow DGGS and UAF to process the resulting data accurately.

This method also allows researchers to understand why the shoreline is changing, whether from storms, permafrost thaw, or natural beach dynamics. By working with local tribal staff to install and maintain equipment, travel costs are minimized, data collection is maximized, and local leadership has an active role in understanding and addressing coastal erosion issues in their community.

By revealing how each region is currently being impacted by storms and continuous shoreline retreat, as well as producing essential baseline data, this research is contributing to community resilience planning and future studies.

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