Sagavanirktok River, Beaufort Sea

Sagavanirktok River, Beaufort Sea

by | Sep 6, 2023

Sagavanirktok River, also known as the Sag River, starts between Endicott and Philip Smith Mountains in the Brooks Range and flows north for 110 miles (180 km) to the Beaufort Sea, about 105 miles (170 km) west of Kaktovik and 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Deadhorse, Alaska. The Iñupiat name for the river is “Sawanukto” meaning “strong current”, as reported in 1901 by S.J. Marsh, who was a prospector. The river delta is about 13 miles (21 km) across and incised by several distributaries on the Beaufort Sea coast between Foggy Island Bay and Prudhoe Bay.

The Beaufort Sea coast is experiencing some of the fastest shoreline erosion rates in the world and the rates appear to be increasing. The Prudhoe Bay coast also contains continuous permafrost that is melting or degrading which is accelerating coastal erosion as well as riverbank erosion. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and Dalton Highway roughly parallel the Sagavanirktok River from Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range to Deadhorse. The highway is mostly an unpaved, two-lane, gravel road, built in 1976 to support the construction of the pipeline.

In late March to early April 2015, winter overflow from the Sagavanirktok River crossed the Dalton Highway near Deadhorse at several points. Consequently, the road was closed for 12 days. Work crews excavated channels along the highway and towards the Sagavanirktok River to stop the flow of water and ice. In May, during spring river ice breakup, the Dalton Highway was flooded again by the Sagavanirktok River in several locations. The magnitude of this event, the first of its type since the road was built, was such that the road was closed for 18 days. Read more here and here. Explore more of Sag River here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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