ShoreZone Project Aims to Map, Photograph, and Catalogue the Y-K Delta Coastline

by Ben Matheson on April 7, 2014

ShoreZone work on Alaska's North Slope. Photo by Hig Higman/ShoreZone.

A ShoreZone helicopter on Alaska’s North Slope. Photo by Hig Higman/ShoreZone.

Alaska has more shoreline than the rest of the United States combined. The majority of it is remote and in some cases not fully mapped or cataloged. The Shorezone project this summer will fly helicopters along the YK Delta’s coastline to photograph and map the terrain.

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Dr. John Harper is a Marine Geologist with Coastal and Ocean Resources and the leader of the Alaska ShoreZone project. He says his team will use a helicopter cover what the old maps missed along the rugged coast.

“They will be going around in detail around every little nook and cranny on the shoreline, so something that might just have been your little point that you were thinking was 10 miles around previously. When you go through all the bays and indentations, it might come out as much as 100 miles on the new shoreline,” said Harper.

This summer’s work will cover 25-hundred miles from Cape Newenham to near the mouth of the Yukon. Teams of scientists will be aboard the helicopter and will systematically catalogue the shoreline. At low tide, they’ll identify things like mudflats, salt marshes, and vegetation and add their observations to a map. The chopper also records vast amounts of high quality photos and video. Those will be linked to a map and the data will live online.

Local governments and citizens can use the imagery and data for planning. The detailed information can come in handy when something happens in a remote area, like when the Coast Guard responds to an oil spill.

“There’s a ship ground at such and such latitude and longitude, and what they do is pull up our dataset. The first thing they do is look at the photos and get a sense of what kind of problems they can face in an oil spill response. And when they get on plane first thing in the morning to go out to the site, they have a little background on what the site looks like and what kind of response they can develop,” said Harper.

Harper says the team is planning workshops in Bethel and on Nunivak Island this summer to discuss the project and hear from residents. They aim to minimize disruptions to people out in the country.

“We’re not doing lots of hovers or circles, we’re usually just flying straight along the shoreline,” said Harper. “Usually for people on the ground, they’ll hear a helicopter about a minute away, and then it’ll fly overhead and they’ll hear it for another minute, and that’s about it.”

NOAA is funding the project this summer. More information is available on the ShoreZone website.

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