Arctic Communities in Alaska Apply Traditional Knowledge and Sovereignty to Resiliency
Climate change is causing average temperatures to rise most dramatically at the Earth’s poles, leading to the rapid melting of a once frozen Arctic. Alaska Native Village communities (Villages) of the Seward Peninsula along the state’s northwestern coast, which is no longer predictably protected by sea ice, have been increasingly confronted by super storm surges, coastal erosion, flooding and related impacts to infrastructure, drinking water, and human health. The situation has become so serious that many of these communities are forced to relocate entire villages or face the risk that the next “superstorm” will cause extreme flooding and destruction of critical infrastructure such as power plants, schools, or sewage treatment facilities. In some cases, extreme coastal erosion will cause these critical community resources to simply fall into the ocean.
In addition, increased stream temperatures, altered ice conditions, and increased stream bank erosion threaten to directly impact fishery and wildlife habitat while making traditional travel routes hazardous. At the same time, environmental threats from industrial, mining, and other extractive development in the region damage water quality by increasing sediments and toxic effluents, and divert vital water resources required for community survival, further exacerbating the adverse impacts of climate change on subsistence resources and human health. Yet even as Arctic communities in Alaska are experiencing unprecedented impacts from climate change and extractive development, federal programs and funding needed to address such impacts are being curtailed. Despite these challenges, with technical support from partners, the Villages are using Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), conventional data, and collaboration with other local federal, state and tribal governmental entities and consortiums to conduct regional and local climate change adaption planning, address gaps in federal programs, and increase resiliency.