Climate Change Vulnerability in NW Alaska

The Arctic is on the front lines of climate change. Average temperatures have warmed 2 to 4 times faster than the rest of the world, permafrost literally melts away before your eyes, and many communities already confront forced relocation. We recently published an article examining climate change in this region in The Journal of Coastal Research entitled Integrating Coastal Vulnerability and Community-based Subsistence Resource Mapping in Northwest Alaska. The paper reports results from a multi-year study done in collaboration with four Inupiaq Eskimo villages (Kotzebue, Deering, Selawik, and Kivalina) on the coast of the Chukchi Sea, north of the Bering Strait.

These communities continue to rely heavily on subsistence resources – caribou, moose, fish, seals and berries, among many other wild foods. These are also rich cultural landscapes, steeped in thousands of years of survival and flourishing in some of the most hostile weather conditions on the planet.

Our study assessed community vulnerability using measures of historic and projected sea level rise and coastal erosion, participatory GIS maps of community subsistence resources, and representative surveys of each village to determine the importance of each resource potentially at risk. Among other things, we developed an innovative methodology combining physical measures of coastal geomorphology with participatory ethnographic methods and survey data.