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Climate Change-Induced Erosion Could Force Mass Relocation in Alaska

Aug 18, 2016 11:50 PM EDT

A small Inupiat Eskimo community of some 600 people in a Native American village of Shismaref atop a small island North of Bering Strait could be relocated due to the continuous erosion of their shoreline due to global warming caused by climate change.

Residents of the Sarichef island conducted a poll whether they will relocate or not. Unofficial ballot results are leaning towards relocation. If the entire community were to relocate in the mainland, the estimated cost would reach about $180 million.

Sarichef Island is approximately 18 square kilometers and is about five miles of the mainland. So far, the relocation site is still unknown, but two vacant sites in the mainland are being considered. With only fishing and hunting as source of income, nearly a third of the population in the island is below the poverty line.

About 10 feet of island's shoreline is being swallowed by the waters each year. In a report from Daily Mail, scientists explained that the thawing of the sea ice that once protected the island from storm surges is to blame for the erosions. Furthermore, global warming is also melting the layer of frozen soil, or permafrost, where the island is built.

"The island, wow, it's smaller," said Jane Stevenson, a resident of the Sarichef Island, in a report from ABC News. We used to have a beach and now we don't have a beach, because we lost a lot of land. Growing up we used to play at the beach. I moved out of Shishmaref in 1998 and I lived out of here for 10 years, then moved back in 2010, and was amazed at how much beach and land we lost in that time."

The Sarichef Island is only one of the six top-priority communities that were imminently threatened by climate change. The Department of Interior has announced last March that it will allocate $6.5 million in funding to help Native American communities find a way to deal with climate change.

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