In this photo taken in September 2005 and provided by Millie Hawley, Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo village is seen in on a barrier island off the coast of northwest Alaska. Inupiat Eskimo villagers in the Chukchi Sea village of Kivalina rely on wild animals to survive, but a recent arrival associated with climate warming is causing health concerns. Photo: Millie Hawley / AP Photo

By Michael Walsh
25 February 2015

(Yahoo News) – Climate change is forcing an isolated Alaskan village, roughly 80 miles above the Arctic Circle, to relocate.

The very existence of Kivalina, a town with about 400 residents on a tiny barrier island off Alaska's northwest coast, is under threat as Arctic sea ice continues to melt into the surrounding Chukchi Sea.

Now the whaling community needs to figure out where to move the town and how to pay for it, after several previous attempts failed. It’s a dilemma that could become more common as global warming continues, scientists warn.

Colleen Swan, who was born and raised in Kivalina, says residents realized they were in serious trouble during 2004’s fall storm surges, when the ice that had typically protected the island had not formed yet — leaving them vulnerable.

“We need to get off this island. We can’t stay here. It’s not an option anymore,” she said in an interview with Yahoo News.

A defensive wall has been erected, but that can only buy a bit more time. Swan says the threat of climate change extends far beyond Kivalina — and people should be prepared. 

“We’re not the only ones that this is happening to, and it’s coming to an area near you,” Swan said. “You should become familiar with the environment around you and be aware of the disaster response plans in your area.”

Christine Shearer, the program director for an energy research organization called CoalSwarm, says it could cost up to $100 million to move the village, according to federal government estimates.

“There are four villages that need to be relocated imminently,” she said in an interview with Yahoo News. “The problem will likely get worse and more communities will be affected.”

According to BBC News, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Kivalina will be uninhabitable in 2025.

But Shearer, author of a book on the plight of Kivalina, says it’s a little strange to give a specific deadline, because tragedy can strike at any time.

“There could all of a sudden be a huge storm that causes a lot of damage or floods the village. The issue isn’t necessarily slow and steady erosion,” she said. [more]

The front line of climate change: Alaska village must relocate as Arctic sea ice thins

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