Arctic coastlines are crumbling away and retreating at the rate of up to 30 metres a year due to the effects of climate change, it was claimed today.
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 ten countries.
Two-thirds of Arctic coasts consist of frozen soil - or permafrost - rather than rock, and are highly sensitive to erosion by wind and waves.
'Melting': Arctic coastlines are crumbling away and retreating at the rate of up to 30 metres a year due to the effects of climate change, scientists claim
Rising temperatures are melting protective sea ice fringing the coastlines and leaving them more exposed to the elements, the researchers claimed.
According to the report, State Of The Arctic Coast 2010, ten-year average rates of coastal retreat are 'typically in the one to two metres per year range, but vary up to ten to 30 metres per year in some locations'.
Worst-hit areas include the Beaufort Sea, the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea, the said.
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 on more than 100,000kms of Arctic coastline - around a quarter of the total - was collected for the report.
The scientists stressed that Arctic coastal habitats were the 'prime lifeline' for Arctic communities, supporting a large population of fish, birds and mammals, including an estimated 500million seabirds.
Meltwater icicles: Rising temperatures are melting protective sea ice fringing the coastlines and leaving them more exposed to the elements, a study said
They wrote: 'In the face of unprecedented and jarring changes in the local environment on which traditional livelihoods and cultures depend, Arctic coastal communities are coping with rapid population growth, technological change, economic transformation, confounding social and health challenges and, in much of the Arctic, rapid political and institutional change.
'It is evident that the coast is a critical component of the Arctic system requiring explicit attention.
'As a focus of human activity with attendant hazards, the circumpolar Arctic coast is clearly a priority for monitoring and detection to support pro-active adaptation and sustainable development.'
They hoped the report would help to close information gaps and 'mobilise the resulting knowledge in an effective way for the betterment of Arctic coastal ecosystems, the peoples of the north and the global community'.
Dr Hugues Lantuit, one of the authors from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany, said until recently little was known about what was happening to Arctic coastlines.
'When systematic data acquisition began in 2000, detailed information was available for barely 0.5 per cent of the Arctic coasts,' he said.