Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

Melting Arctic sea ice forces relocation on Alaskan village

By Karen Hardison     Feb 28, 2015 in World
Human interest meets ecological endangerment in a small whaling village on a small barrier island in Alaska. Watching midwinter Arctic sea ice turn to water, inhabitants are forced to accept relocation but lack the means.
Lying within the Arctic Circle, Kivalina, Alaska, has been the seat of generations of cooperative living that forges compatibility between a strip of land and an ocean of ice. Usually thick and dense, the "multiyear" ice, replenished year after year with an accumulating, unmelting density, is being replaced by exposed waters and "young" ice forming in thin layers atop the exposed Arctic Ocean.
In times just recently past, the 400 IƱupiat who make their home on the barrier island along the Arctic's Chukchi Sea maintained a self-sufficient living hunting bowhead whales from camps way out upon the densely iced surface of the sea. Now it has become an inescapable truth that the village of Kivalina must relocate to safer ground.
Today, in midwinter, the ice is so far deteriorated that lapping water provides the view that ought to be as white as frozen ice. Ice camps can't be built on thin young ice. Traditional sustenance activities are impossible. The strip of barrier island is now in the grip of endangerment.
Feedback Escalation
Effects of climate change are grim and fast escalating. The ecological process of feedback escalates and amplifies deterioration of sea ice caused by warmer air resulting from climate change. Feedback occurs when warming air melts sea ice from above. Warmer melted water joins the sea water beneath the ice. Coming as a huge surprise, scientists discovered around 2010 that the introduction of melted sea ice, coming at a faster rate than normal and at a warmer temperature than normal, causes complementary melting on the underside of the sea ice. This dual melting is further amplified when newly exposed ocean waters increase absorption of solar radiation thereby increasing ocean temperature and ice melt-off.
Impact on Strip Barrier Reef Island
Now, Kivalina winter sustenance activities must be abandoned and food must be accepted from government sources, but come autumn, which will follow an expected unprecedented five-month summer, fall storms will over-wash the barrier island sending waves atop Kivalina village and eroding the barrier island. Erosion and storms will endanger the village's 85 homes and 400 citizens.
In 2006, the US Army Corp of Engineers released a report on Kivalina commissioned in 2003 by the Government Accounting Office (GAO). The Corp warned against erosion and over-washing in storms, stating Kivalina to be in "imminent danger" because the thin reef island would "succumb to natural forces," as a consequence Kivalina "village would have to be moved."
National Emergency Policy
U.S. policy is set up to respond through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to natural or other disasters after the fact, to rescue victims after a hurricane (unless they are inexplicably abandoned in New Orleans), to respond after fires or floods decimate vast territories. Policy is not set up to respond before-the-fact to anticipated emergencies.
Several nations in Oceania have already devised national policy to respond to foreseeable future sea level elevation by putting cooperative evacuation plans in place with neighboring nations. After decades of watching ocean waters rise and drive the shoreline further and further inward, Fiji initiated the 2012 relocation inland of the swamped shoreline village of Vunidogoloa. In 2009 the Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea were relocated to a larger island in the Papua New Guinea islands.
While the villagers of Kivalina accept the inevitable being forced upon them by land erosion and raging ocean storms, none know how the expected relocation cost of more than $50 million will be paid. The Interior Department points out that funding at present is only sufficient to "support long-term resilience planning" that considers "relocation" and "other actions and approaches."
Historical Backlash
In 1906 the Interior Department allocated $50,000 to the "education of natives in Alaska." The building of 26 schools, with one in Kivalina, was the propelling force behind the sociological phenomenon of "consolidation" in which Alaska's mobile communities dependent upon following migratory hunting and fishing gathered in stationary villages so as to comply with and take advantage of compulsory education requirements. Some residents of Kivalina see an ironic justice in the need for government funding to relocate in order to have safe, non-endangered lives.
More about kivalina alaska, Arctic circle, Arctic sea, Sea ice, Climate change
Latest News
Top News