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article imageGlobal Warming and rising seas — Alaska village votes to relocate

By Karen Graham     Aug 18, 2016 in Environment
Shishmaref - The coastal village of Shishmaref, Alaska voted to relocate away from their ancestral home on Wednesday, although they won't be going anyplace anytime soon. Rising sea levels due to climate change have left the village at risk for flooding.
Shishmaref is a village located on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait, and about five miles from the Mainland. Shishmaref has been inhabited for 400 years and is a traditional Inupiaq Eskimo village of nearly 600 people who rely heavily on a subsistence style of living, hunting and gathering most of their food.
Sarichef Island is rather unique. It is part of a barrier-island chain that runs 100 kilometers (62 miles) along the northwestern coastal region. While erosion is evident along the entire chain of islands, Shishmaref Island has an unusual fetch exposure and a high tidal prism, meaning erosion is much greater on Shishmaref's front shoreline.
The village of Shishmaref in N. Alaska  inhabited for 400 years  is facing evacuation due to rising ...
The village of Shishmaref in N. Alaska, inhabited for 400 years, is facing evacuation due to rising temperatures, which are causing a reduction in sea ice, thawing of permafrost along the coast.
NOAA
The effects of climate change on Shishmaref Island are the most dramatic seen anywhere in the world. Rising temperatures have reduced the sea ice that normally would have acted as a buffer, protecting the island from excessive erosion caused by waves and storm surge. At the same time, the permafrost the village was built on has begun to thaw, making the shoreline even more vulnerable to erosion.
In recent years, the shoreline has been receding at a rate of 3.3 meters (10 feet) a year, despite the building of barricades and a seawall on the front shore of the island. The town's homes, water system and general infrastructure have been impacted by the rising temperatures.
Warming permafrost softens coastlines  making it more vulnerable to wave action and promoting erosio...
Warming permafrost softens coastlines, making it more vulnerable to wave action and promoting erosion along the Arctic coast of Alaska. A large block of ice-rich permafrost has detached from the mainland and will quickly disintegrate (photo: Christopher Arp).
United Nations Environment Programme
Wednesday's vote was the third such vote taken by villagers. In May of 1973, the island village voted to relocate and again in July of 2002. Both previous votes didn't get off the ground because of a failure to have a place to relocate and a lack of the motivation to actually take that first step in pulling up roots and abandoning their ancestral home.
Alaska warming at twice the rate of the rest of the country
Alaska has been consistently recording above-average temperatures for the past several years. As a matter of fact, the 2015-2016 Winter (December-February) was the second warmest on record, dating back to 1925. As for 2016, daily temperatures have been above average for the majority of the year.
Coastal erosion of permafrost resulted in the complete destruction of this house in Shishmaref  Alas...
Coastal erosion of permafrost resulted in the complete destruction of this house in Shishmaref, Alaska.
United Nations Environment Programme
Shishmaref is just one of 31 Alaskan villages the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) says are facing an immediate threat from flooding and erosion. But it is not clear if the federal government will pay for the relocation of the villages.
This is because many of the villages are unincorporated. They fail to qualify for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Community Development Block Grant program, meaning the government won't help them.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it would cost at least $180 million to relocate Shishmaref's families, and Shishmaref is just one of 12 villages that have voted to move to a safer location. Residents want to find a site on the mainland, yet are finding it hard to turn their backs on the traditional ways of their ancestors.
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Centre for Environmental Change & Human Resilience
Do you know who America's first climate refugees were?
Surprisingly, they are not from Alaska. In February, HUD set aside its first grant money for climate change refugees. Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw native American families living on the Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana were given $48 million to pick up and move to a drier and safer location because their homeland, occupied for generations, is being swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico.
Many areas in Louisiana are being impacted by a warming climate, whole areas of land inundated after decades of oil extraction practices and rising sea levels, a failed levee project and worsening storms. And Isle de Jean Charles is not the only place that would be eligible for a relocation grant. There are a number of communities, including Honolulu and Miami that are at high risk.
More about alaskan village, Rising sea levels, third vote, Climate change, Funding
 
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