Climate change study targets problems in Alaska communities

The greatest environmental threats to Alaska Native communities include erosion, flooding and thawing permafrost, a new study found.

Shaktoolik and Shishmaref near Bering and Chukchi seas named as the 2 most threatened communities

An abandoned house at the west end of Shishmaref, Alaska, sits on the beach after sliding off during a fall storm in 2005. A new study ranks Shishmaref as one of communities most threatened by climate change in Alaska. (Diana Haecker/The Associated Press)

The greatest environmental threats to Alaska Native communities include erosion, flooding and thawing permafrost, a new study found.

The study results issued last month found the environmental hazards continue to worsen because of climate change, Alaska's Energy Desk reported Sunday.

The Army Corps of Engineers and researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks conducted the study for the Denali Commission's Village Infrastructure Protection Program.

The three-year, $700,000 study examined 187 communities, primarily in western Alaska, that are on or near the coast or a river, officials said.

The study provided a rating system that ranks the existing danger levels from flooding, erosion and permafrost degradation.

The report may help residents determine the biggest threats facing the infrastructure of their individual communities, said Don Antrobus, a Denali Commission program manager.

Erosion on the shores of the Ninglick River as seen in 2015 in Newtok, Alaska. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

"In order for communities to develop good solutions, they need to fully understand the site-specific threat," Antrobus said.

More specific information is needed, and the rankings are complex. The report combined the threat categories for each community to determine those facing the greatest danger.

"There is a little bit of uncertainty based on that availability of data, so it shouldn't be taken as hard and fast," Antrobus said.

Shaktoolik and Shishmaref near the Bering and Chukchi seas were named as the two most threatened communities after enduring catastrophic erosion and storms. Shishmaref has considered relocation as dwindling sea ice provides less protection for the shoreline, the report said.

Newtok and Napakiak in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are facing full moves or building relocations due to riverbank erosion, the report said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.