The Eroding Alaskan Village of Shishmaref

Jan 28, 2015 8 comments

Shishmaref is a small village of about 600 people located on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait and five miles from the Alaska mainland. The 3-mile long barrier island on which the village sits is slowly eroding away. Whenever a big storm hits, a giant chunk of land falls off to sea, sometimes taking off with it a house or two.

The island has dealt with erosion issues since at least the 1950s, but recent climate change is exacerbating the problem considerably. Average temperatures are increasing faster in Alaska than they are in the rest of the United States, warming 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years. Rising temperatures have reduced sea ice which have protected Shishmaref from storm surges in the past. At the same time, the higher temperatures are causing the permafrost that the village is built on to melt making the shore even more vulnerable to erosion.


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The residents of Shishmaref, most of whom are Alaska Native Inupiaq people, have tried to counter these problems by moving houses away from the cliffs and constructing barriers along the northern shore. But the sea continued to eat away at their land. Finally, in 2002, the residents voted to relocate from the island, but more than 12 years have passed and this has not happened. To find a proper location, building infrastructure and then moving an entire town costs money and government funding is hard to get.

Besides, Shishmaref is not alone. A dozen Alaskan villages are at the risk of coastal erosion and other climate-related change such as flooding. According to one Environmental Justice Foundation report, as many as 150 million people around the world may become "climate refugees" because of rising sea levels due to global warming.


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Sources: CNN / Huffington Post / Wikipedia


  1. "Finally, in 2012, the residents voted to relocate from the island, but more than 12 years have passed and this has not happened."


  2. Looks like normal beach erosion to me, it's a bit short-sighted to jump on a box and scream about it being related to anything other than normal natural action seen all over the world since the dawn of time.

    1. Except that the erosion seen in this part of the world didn't really start until the '50s, and is directly related to lower levels of sea ice and permafrost that melted as a result of higher sea temperatures. That's a directly caused by climate change, and you're utterly blind if you don't recognize that.

  3. The erosion is normal, the timescale is not. No one is jumping on a box and screaming anything, but the facts are there to be seen. The average temperture in the region has steadily increased in a short period of time, causing the accelerated change to the environment in this area. Climates have gone through natural cycles of heating and cooling since "The dawn of time" but these cycles take 1000's if not 100's of thousnads of years to occur. To have it change within the space of 50 years, therefore making it observable to us shouldnt be ignored.

  4. I used to buy Native products from Shishmaref 20 yrs ago and the residents told me (1996) the village was to be relocated due to (rising sea?)
    15 minutes ago I called and talked w/two different residents of Shishmaref; one said the only buildings they had ever lost were during violent storms, never to rising seas. I asked them both if they personally could witness the sea was rising. After a long pause, she said "that's a good question, I never noticed". The other was a City official and referred me to a Fed Gov site but indicated he didn't notice any change in his 30 yrs on the Island.
    Shishmaref is being touted as the "Symbol of Global Warming".
    Global warming, climate change is for ONE REASON, to TAX the people of earth to DEATH. Over $100 BILLION world tax is to go to the UN ANNUALLY. That MAY be America's portion only, and does even include other countries.
    The Arctic and Antarctic are NOT MELTING but gaining new ice ANNUALLY last several years.

    1. Are you kidding me? You obviously haven't done much research on this matter and I would be curious to know who exactly you spoke to in Shishmaref that made those statements because I find those statements hard to believe.

    2. New sea ice is actually forming because land ice melts into the ocean and creates a new top layer of ice. If ice was previously on land and it melts into the sea, there will be more water in the ocean, regardless of whether or not its frozen. It's almost like believing that if you plop an few ice cubes into a cup of water that the water level won't rise at all.


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