Science AMA Series: We’re a group of researchers in Tuktoyaktuk using drones, thermal imaging, laser scanning and more to better understand the climate-change driven acceleration of Arctic coastal erosion in the Western Canadian Arctic. Ask us anything!



What makes a permafrost coast erode so much faster than elsewhere? Could you classify some of the primary types of coasts worldwide and their erosion rates?


Ice-rich permafrost coastlines along the Arctic Ocean are eroding faster than anywhere else in the world. We have seen rates of up to 40 m at a single location. Other sites have lost over 1 km since the 1950s.

What makes a permafrost coast erode so much faster than elsewhere? Could you classify some of the primary types of coasts worldwide and their erosion rates?


Warm temperatures is one of the main reasons. The permafrost and massive ice bodies are thawing due to the warming air temperatures and increased interactions with the warmer sea water and waves that are driven by coastal storms. In general the storminess of the Arctic Ocean has increased with the declining sea ice and increased open water season. This will cause more erosion. The morphology of some ice-rich coastlines can lead to increased erosion rates as well. Ice wedge polygons will lead to large block failures as seen in our intro picture.

Thanks for the AMA, you guys do really interesting stuff. I'm about to start an undergrad thesis on coastal geomorph in Texas!

What is the biggest detreimental impact you've seen of human infrastructure on coastal ecosystems/landscapes?

Other than sea level rise, how is climate change tied into coastal geomorphology?


Excellent to hear about your thesis - so much to study! Coastal geomorphology is the study of the interactions between coastal materials, processes and the resultant landforms, which operate over multiple spatial and temporal scales, and so the links with changing climate (that concern longer term trends) are often complex. The dynamism of coastal systems means they are particularly responsive to drivers change. So for example, with techniques such as 3D change detections, storm impacts can now be quantified accurately and therefore we can tie coastal geomorphic responses to predicted increases in storm incidence. The western Canadian Arctic coast is a particularly good region to study impacts of warming temperatures and longer melt conditions on the rates and nature of coastal responses such as cliff retreat and sediment fluxes can be seen more readily when trying to link to wider scale influences.

I'm a GIS professional and photogrammetrist, what kind of lidar sensor and drone are you using? Do you have issues with the cold temperatures affecting your equipment?


Hi - We use DJI products and are quite happy with them. Temperatures up here right now rarely go below 7-10 degrees during the day so thus far we haven't seen a problem with cold temperatures. However we suspect you would have difficulty with the batteries before anything else.

Good morning, and thanks for doing this.

What kind of impact will this have on coastal towns over the next 10, 20, 50, 100 years if left unchecked? And as a follow up, what should folks who live in or plan to live in coastal towns be prepared for to deal with these changes?


Coastal towns all over the world are affected by erosion and rising sea levels. Accelerated climate forces have made the changes on permafrost coastlines somewhat unpredictable and less understood. If left unchecked coastal erosion will continued to erode the coast at its current or accelerated rate. Land masses will continue to disappear! Without serious thought into shoreline mitigation and adaption and protection many communities are at a serious risk in 10, 20 or 50 years depending on the currents rates.

  1. As climate researchers, what do you think are the most confusing aspects of the current climate change dialog for the layperson to truly grasp?

  2. Do you have specific thoughts on how best to educate our children on taking informed and meaningful actions in thier lifetimes to either adapt to, or better yet, improve humanity's willingness to take responsibility for our impact on Earth's climate?

Thank you.


To me, it's the fact the climate change deniers have done a great job of recruiting non-experts and presenting them, both through their own blogs and sites and even through much of the mainstream conservative media, as actual experts. To people that don't understand the science, and don't have the time, they can't help but find it difficult to notice the fake experts and ultimately get incredibly confused by mixed messages being presented.

As for the educating children, that's a tough one. Maybe some of the others will have an idea, but other than teaching them critical thinking from an early age, I'm not sure.


Statement: Too much of science is spent trying to study and show the effects of climate change and not enough scientist are in the political and economic arena to actually stop climate change.

Agree or disagree? Why or why not?


I wouldn't say that too much science focuses on trying to understand changes to climate and their impacts because of the scale, complexity and potential severity of the problem, but it has often been a very valid point that not enough try to convey their work in the political arena in particular. There are many wonderful examples of where this is done effectively but often science, within academic spheres science has often be judged on journal papers that are not read outside the science community. This is changing with new focuses on things like the impact of our work (how it affects communities and policy makers), which I think is a very positive step. What good are significant advances in understanding if they aren't conveyed to those that need it...

It would be really interesting to learn about your daily workflow as well. How often do you use Python? Do you employ any machine learning tools in your setup? Do you have any favourite industry specific libraries other than Pandas and Scipy? What is a typical day in your lives like? Do you guys use twitter/other soc media to talk about work/technical stuff much? Can you share your twitter bios?


Our daily work flow is rather varied, we typically try to form our plan the night before for field logistics and data collection but so many aspects are weather dependent that we need Plan B and Plan C for the morning! Our may concerns are to undertake multiple studies across multiple sites (on shore and offshore) and to ensure safety of all members. Typically we'll split into two or three teams, and use boat or helicopter to get to key sites and conduct surveys, take samples and install monitoring equipment. We'll get back around 7, dinner and downloading/charging, processing and planning. Clearly we are getting into Reddit(!) now and Twitter is also a great to learn about what colleagues are but we mostly havent used it fully yet I'm afraid!

Hi, thanks for doing this. Im really interested how the industries ( such as fishing ) are effected by these changes. How are they coping, and can they adapt at all in order to make a living?


Great question! This is exactly what we are trying to figure out as well. How does increased coastal changes affect nearshore ecosystems. Is it possible for marine species to adapt to changing habitats as fast as the landscape is changing. - DW

In doing research on the effects of climate change in the Western Canadian Arctic, what posed some of the greatest challenges you had to face? Were there many complications that arose that made research difficult to conduct?


Great question. There have been many challenges to our work - perhaps the greatest has been logistical. We are trying to gain new data on key sites over wide areas, which has required chartered planes, helicopters and boats and lots of kit! But more than this we are working with local guides, drivers and wildlife monitors - without their knowledge and expertise we could not conduct this work. Complications arise every day: from logistics, to weather to installing kit, but we all work well together and enjoy meeting these challenges. Installing monitoring sensors that need to survive through the harsh winter conditions - will always be a challenge though!

How much influence do Astronomical events have on climate change (gravitational pull, the suns electromagnetic energy on our iron core, etc.)? (Edit: grammar)


There are a lot of things that influence the climate, including different types of solar variability, but the important one is that which is driving the change right now. And it's virtually unanimous among climate scientists that anthropogenic GhG emissions are the primary cause of the current warming trend.

Give it to me straight Doc,

How screwed are we


We're about as screwed as a piece of string is long

Welcome and thank you for your time. What unique benefits do drones offer your research team that are useful in monitoring erosion?

For Andrew Gordon: what is it like having so many research teams from around the world visiting your small community? How often are you contracted through ARI by incoming groups?


It's great having researchers come and keep me busy. I am hired quite a bit but it also keeps me in the field and not in a office.I love it!


Welcome and thank you for your time. What unique benefits do drones offer your research team that are useful in monitoring erosion?

For Andrew Gordon: what is it like having so many research teams from around the world visiting your small community? How often are you contracted through ARI by incoming groups?


The drones provide very high resolution and accuracy mapping that cannot be obtained from more traditional methods such as satellite or airborne imagery. By having high resolution imagery we can replace the time consuming and sometimes dangerous task of measuring the current coastline by walking the coast with a high accuracy GPS. By comparing year to year coastline positions we can measure rates of change. Also, by simultaneously acquiring elevation and nadir airborne imagery we can measure the volume of displaced sediment.

Do you have any data regarding the effects of volcanism or plate tectonics on the permafrost? I remember there being a post on Reddit recently on subglacial volcanoes being discovered on the Western coast of Antarctica, and have been curious as to whether this could be causing changes at either pole.


When it comes to volcanism, the important thing to consider with these discoveries is whether they've been there for a long time and are just part of the norm. With the Antarctic volcanoes, it's likely that they've been in existence for thousands, if not millions, of years, and thus are unlikely to be driving much change.

So with permafrost the fact that the degradation and warming has a near global signal, undiscovered tectonic/volcanic heat input is unlikely to be playing a significant role.

Erosion can be a very gradual and long term process, what kind of methods of detection are you using for that? I guess drones are still too unstable to get sub centimeter differences over time?


Much of the coast here is ice-rich, so it's a lot of sediment bound together by ice, or sediment sitting atop massive ice bodies, so when it melts it can erode at an incredible rate. You can literally just sit and watch it erode back in real-time in some areas. A place we'll be visiting on Wednesday, called Pelly Island, retreated 50m just last summer!

So, in general, unlike on solid rock coasts, we don't need sub cm level differencing out here.


Erosion can be a very gradual and long term process, what kind of methods of detection are you using for that? I guess drones are still too unstable to get sub centimeter differences over time?


Because the coastline here is permafrost and therefore consists largely of ice the rates of erosion we are measuring are very high (from 1 to 45 m/year) so sub-centimeter measurements aren't necessary for us. As TheLucarian states, sub-centimeter measurements are possible however the amount of care and consideration increases exponentially with increased accuracy and precision. -Roger

I've fed the mosquitoes in Tuk too. Many northerners are quite amazed at how mild the winters have become in comparison to the past, are there risks of frozen virus's from the past rearing their heads again?


I hope not (he says as he scratches at multiple bites).


Wow, thanks for doing this. I apologize for getting political here but as a Canadian who grew up with many family friends and neighbors who were government scientists, I've always been proud of the work we've done. Not everyone is aware of the restrictions and cuts made by our previous government. We went through a dark period there, so I have to ask, would this AMA have been allowed under Harper?


I am a UK scientist and so fully acknowledge I'm not best placed to answer this one but would like to add my view here. It has been a privilege to work with our Canadian colleagues here from NRCan, they are truly exceptional at what they do and you should indeed be very proud of your government scientists. Whatever the challenges, I would say they have been exceptional under Harper and are still so under Trudeau.

Could you ELI5? Your title is overwhelming.


So, the Arctic is warming up very quickly. And many of the coasts around the Arctic have lots of ice in them. So that extra warmth (in the air and ocean) is causing the coasts to melt and the soil to get washed away by waves. But different areas erode in different ways and at different rates, and we would like to understand why. So we're using lots of new devices to try and figure this out!

Drones are good because they can monitor large areas very accurately, and we can even make 3D models with them, to see if the surface sinking too! Laser scanners give us even more detail on the cliff faces. We are also looking at things like how hot they're getting, and where they are getting hotter faster, because that might tell us where places might erode more in the future and might tell us why some areas slump and other break apart in big blocks.


I'm curious about the struggles and enjoyments of working in the arctic. What aspects of life and work do you find challenging and rewarding?


It is a fantastic place to be in summer, remote, beautiful and great for the scientific aspects we are interested in. The long daylight hours - are fantastic for getting work done but also are extremely draining and sleep mostly comes through exhaustion rather than a sensible time to take a break..! The weather, logistics and permissions for work are challenging but the locals are so knowledgeable and rewarding to work with. We've also seen whales, a bear, eagles and all sorts of other wildlife that has been fantastic too.

A while ago there was the "Big Crack" plastered all over the news for the antarctic.

Will your surveys be able to better map areas where "Big Cracks" are likely to occur for the arctic region? Or will your research mostly focus on the less icy portions?


The "Big Crack" in Antarctica was located, I think, on the Larson C ice shelf, which is a region of floating ice hundreds of meters thick. This type of ice isn't present in the Arctic, with sea ice in the Arctic just a few meters thick at most, and the majority melting out most summers.

The method of using drones for monitoring could certainly be applied to generating high-resolution surface models along sections of the ice shelf cracks in Antarctica too, provided they could work as well in the colder environment. Identifying the cracks will likely remain in the realm of satellite remote sensing for now though.

Is the floating dry dock still in there? I spent some time on it many years ago. You said could ask anything.


Yep, in great shape.

This one is directed at Roger- do you use or are planning to use any multi/hyperspectral imaging systems on your drones?

My background and reason for asking- I prototyped a multispectral system for detecting pyrethroids on surfaces for the Australian Government however when it came to acquiring a mobile multispectral imager under $20,000 I was coming up short. Something in the Near Infrared region.


Hi DeltaPositionReady, No we haven't been using multi or hyperspectral on our drones (yet). I'm a MSc. student at the University of Victoria in which the lab I'm apart of is using both as well as a LiDAR on their drones with very good success. Considering checking out as they have two multispectral sensors with NIR coverage. Also, take a look at Cubert's ( hyperspectral and multispectral systems. Lots of options for (relatively) lower costs.

What type of drones are you guys using? Can we get pictures? :)


We are using DJI Phantom 4s on this trip. In the past we have used SkyHero Spyders, Tuffwing UAV Mappers, and DJI Phantom 4 Pros and Mavics. All of which have been useful. The Phantom 4's are great as they are easy to use. Reliability and ease of use is paramount in these remote environments.

Roger Online photo

Thx for doing this AMA! Could you go into detail about the drone technology you are utilizing? Specifically is it fixed wing or copter? Is it custom built? What type of thermal camera and laser sensors are used? What software are you using to process the data?


We are exclusively using multicopters however we have used fixed wings in the past. The multicopters have proven to be more reliable, compact, and manageable in remote locations. No customization has been needed. We are using Pix4D and CloudCompare software for processing our SfM data (thermal and optical data).
Our thermal camera has been used on-board the helicopter and the LiDAR systems consist of a terrestrial (tripod) system and another mounted on a boat for imaging near vertical slopes.

Do you have a shorter name for Tuktoyaktuk, or do you always say the full name?


Sometimes just "Tuk". :-)

Do you have a shorter name for Tuktoyaktuk, or do you always say the full name?



Just wanted to say hi and very interested to see what your research finds. I work for Environment Canada and am curious if you use any of our nearby climate automatic weather stations in your analysis or research?


Great post thank you very much we use the pelly, shingle point and tuk weather stations

Which drones did you use?


We are using DJI Phantom 4s on this trip. In the past we have used SkyHero Spyders, Tuffwing UAV Mappers, and DJI Phantom 4 Pros and Mavics. All of which have been useful. The Phantom 4's are great as they are easy to use. Reliability and ease of use is paramount in these remote environments. Roger

Are you using 3d printed parts on your drones?


Yes sometimes. In all cases they have been for camera mounts on our SkyHero Spyder. We are looking at purchasing a printer so that we can customize new mounts for multispectral and possibly thermal sensors. Roger.

Three questions.

  1. Can you put what you guys do into easier terms to understand.

  2. What is the purpose of what you are doing?

  3. What research have you gathered?


  1. We are a primarily a team of people who study coastal landforms and how they change.
  2. To better understand change in the Western Canadian Arctic coast to aid planning and mitigation of its impacts.
  3. We have generated large datasets on coastal erosion processes and nearshore sediment transport and installed monitoring equipment to continue the data into the future, in order to try and achieve our goals.

You guys have got to be using a fleet of DJI 600 hexacopters or equivalent!!

Is there any more detail on the airframe or sensing capabilities of these drones?


Nope. It's DJI Phantom 4s for us. Our work is unique in that we have to travel far by either helicopter or boat to get to our survey sites. The 600 is great except it takes so many batteries that we wouldn't be able to cover much area. We often carry enough Phantom batteries to survey all day. Usually around 6 surveys a day at one or two sites. That's 36 batteries with a DJI 600! The LiDAR systems we are using are mounted on a tripod and a boat. The thermal camera is being used to image the exposed slopes from the window of the helicopter.


Do any of you have a "University of Tuktoyaktuk" TUK U hoodie ? (Also I'm from the NWT lived here my whole life, welcome !)


No none of us have one but we all agree that we're going to get one in Inuvik! Strange that you can't buy one in Tuk. Tuk U! Roger

I'm canoeing to Tuk in the spring. Will I be able to see your work in action around the area?


Hi! You wont be able to make it to Tuk until at least mid June. I recommend to follow this facebook site that tracks and monitors Spring ice breakup change in the region

Thank you! That was an awesome explanation. When did this project start? How much time do you have to complete it? Or is it based on funding? Lastly, how can I access the results? I'm very curious as to what the cause is.


It's a mix of projects coming together really. Some of the guys here have been monitoring certain areas for over a decade, gradually adding new tools and personnel. For myself (Samuel) and my supervisor, Mike, it's our first trip out here. So Dustin and his team have been our guides, showing us where the ideal sites are and helping us with logistics, while we've brought some new tools (laser scanning, thermal, geotechnical) to add an extra dimension to the work they're already doing.

Myself and Mike got funding through NERC (the UK Canada Arctic bursary program) and through the INTERACT transnational access program, so that's only for this field trip, though we will apply next year too. There may well be applications for bigger grants based on how well things go this during this trip too.

For the Canadians, (though maybe they can answer themselves in more detail) they're working on a longer term project and so have more secure funding.

There will likely be a few papers published and some reports too, but we can't really say when they will be put together and published quite yet!

Would small islands erode away and disappear?


Yes they would and they do!

first of thanks for doing this , since there are many good science questions I will ask the next line of questions , what do you Guys eat ?


Tonight's supper was fresh trout on the bar b q.

Pineapple on pizza or no?




What are the hardest, the worst, the best and the funnest parts of hunting a whale?


The hardest I guess is when the whale keeps doing 180s and going under the boat. The best is when you are towing the whale because you know you got a winter supply of food, the worst is if your hunting in bad weather conditions combined with the 180s they do, and the funniest is just doing the hunt. Andrew

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