Global Warming Forces an Alaska Town to Relocate

By Eliza Strickland | April 27, 2009 3:42 pm

Newtok, AlaskaThe 340 residents of Newtok, Alaska will soon be among the first “climate refugees” in the United States. Global warming has battered the tiny coastal town: As average yearly temperatures rise, coastal ice shelves melt as does the permafrost on which the town sits.  The Ninglick River has overtaken the town as the ground level simultaneously sinks [Backpacker blog]. As a result, the town’s scattered buildings are connected by a network of boardwalks across the mud.

With the forces of nature arrayed against them, the townspeople have now voted to relocate their town to a new site nine miles inland, on higher ground by the river. “We are seeing the erosion, flooding and sinking of our village right now,” said Stanley Tom, a Yup’ik Eskimo and tribal administrator for the Newtok Traditional Council…. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that moving Newtok could cost $130 million. Twenty-six other Alaskan villages are in immediate danger, with an additional 60 considered under threat in the next decade, according to the corps [CNN].

Architects have already designed an evacuation shelter to be built at the site of the new town, and the U.S. military will build a temporary road to the shelter locale this summer. The shelter will have wood-heated steam baths, a gravity-fed sewer system and a permafrost-chilled cellar. Construction of the 8,500-square-foot shelter could begin next year…. The shelter, designed like a huge Quonset hut with a boxy wing on one side, will be a critical step for residents looking for a way to leave their village [The Arctic Sounder].

The townspeople’s decision illustrates global warming’s impact on people living near the Arctic. While the  Yup’ik Eskimos of Newtok were making their decision, the first Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit was taking place in Anchorage, Alaska, with representatives from 80 nations on hand to discuss how global warming is affecting their communities. Indigenous people are among those contributing least to the worsening problem of greenhouse gases and climate change, said Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, president of the United Nations General Assembly. However, he said they are the first to feel the impacts of climate change [AP].

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Image: Wikimedia

  • Patrick

    Alaska has just had their second coldest year since 1975.

  • Jason

    Perhaps we can just build them a bridge, dontcha know?

  • JOhn Davis

    Wow, that is pretty scary. This is clearly just the beginning.


  • John

    let me be the first to say it, leave! move! go away! 130 million to relocate a town, I wouldn’t spend a dime. Find somewhere else to live. More taxpayer dollars wasted on the “me” people.

  • No

    Hey Patrick,

    Educate yourself, you’re embarrassing.

  • trog

    Hey No,
    What part of it was cold in Alaska don’t you understand? So we blame anthropogenic global warming on this town having to move?
    Yeah, you are right. There are absolutely, positively no other possible explanations. Yep, and Al Gore is not a political figure. Yep, and even though there are dozens of studies by world class scientists that also dispute anthropogenic based warming, it is consensus that everything that could possibly be associated with climate change is based on human causes.

    Oh and Eliza, it seems you only post news stories that support your point of view. Is there a reason that you don’t post anything that would possibly be contrary? Discover magazine deserves much better.

  • Nic

    trog, those “world class scientists that also dispute anthropogenic based warming” are being funded by oil companies. Real climate scientists, that don’t have a pro-oil bias, agree humans are the source of climate change. Ever heard of the IPCC report?

  • Jim

    /face in hands

    Nic, the majority of the scientist that put together the IPCC report are now backing away from the global warming scare in attempt to salvage their carriers. There is a growing number of true climate scientist (not the biologist that are on the Al Gore bandwagon) that are expressing skepticism over global warming.

  • Nic

    Majority is an overstatement. That’s a handfull of scientists who likely have an agenda from a website with all kinds of articles looking to disprove climate change, looks biased to me. I’m currently taking classes at a reputable 4-year university for environmental science, and the meterology department, agronomy department, chemistry department, ecology department, etc. all teach climate change and the anthropogenic increase in CO2 as fact. I have yet to take a class where the professor teaches as though there’s professional debate on the topic. Facts are facts, learn the science behind it. Try this article:

  • Comet

    It still amazes me some people don’t believe climate change is occurring due to human action. There are so many facts yet they choose to believe a few probably corrupt scientists.

  • Jim

    Nic, of course they have an agenda. Any scientist who disagrees with the Global Warming hype must have agenda…..right?

    Comet, what amazes me is that people like you can’t see through the crap that’s being fed to you. There are so many facts that dispute the theory (cause it is a theory) of anthropogenic based warming. Wake up and do a little research on your own and not at The Huffington Post.

  • Brian J. Mhango

    The climate change debate has been mammoth to say the least strangely, for those of us in developing countries despite our good intentions we just to see a lot of workshops and conference on the subject, but hardly anything substantive towards capacity building.
    In my case I have had a University place for a PhD for the past three years without funding to conduct research in climate change. There are no funds, but the euphoria around the subject is unbelievable. It is impossible to imagine I will get a scholarship in the foreseeable future, unless a miracle happens.

  • John

    They found an old silver mine in Switzerland that was uncovered after accumulated snow retreated. Best guess was the mine was over 100 years old. Which must mean that then there was no snow covereage. Didn’t a scientist back in the early 1900’s sail through most of what is considered the northern ice pack? Which would mean it hasn’t always been a soldi ice mass. Most of the worlds ice is at the south pole anyways. P.S Al Gore has about 35 million reasons to sell you on Global Climate Change…by the way it has always been changing, always will…

  • Eliza Strickland

    Trog: Discover magazine and its web site are dedicated to explaining peer-reviewed, fact-based science. Global warming denialism doesn’t fit in that category.

    Thanks, Nic, for making the points I was going to make, and even for linking to the NY Times article I was going to link to! For those who haven’t read it, the article discloses internal documents produced by the Global Climate Coalition, a group that was funded by oil, coal, and auto industries. The group’s sole purpose was to cast doubt on the scientific legitimacy of global warming. And yet, the group’s own science and technical advisers wrote this:

    “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

    They knew it, and that was 14 years ago.

  • Ian

    Increasing temperature means increasing moisture, which can cause colder winters. The earth still moves the same, and Global Warming will not cancel winter. But it is Scientific Fact; the Earth is getting gradually warmer at a pace not precedented.

    Look at it this way: can you honestly believe that all the polutants we are pumping into the air has no effect. It’s all just happy smoke that gets eaten up by the faeries?

  • Calladus

    We live in a fishbowl, and have pumped a great deal of CO2 into the atmosphere in a very short time. Atmospheric CO2 is at 380 ppm, which is 100 ppm greater than it has been for the last 80-100 thousand years. There is good evidence that CO2 levels haven’t been above 300 ppm for the last 20 million years.

    CO2 levels were significantly higher in the distant past. Around the Cambrian explosion, CO2 was probably at 6,000 ppm. Levels have been falling since then as plants evolved to use and sequester the CO2. Increasing levels now show that plants can’t keep up any longer.

    The rise in atmospheric CO2 over the last few centuries correlates closely to the rise of industrialization in the world. However, correlation is not causation.

    The orbiting Carbon Observatory was launched to (in part) verify causation of CO2. The launch failed.

    The Deep Space Climate Observatory was designed to (in part) verify the heat budget of the Earth, to determine how much heat was captured versus how much heat was wasted. This would be a good experiment to determine if Global Warming is actually happening. Republicans pooh-pooed it as a “75 million dollar screen saver” and successfully mothballed the already constructed satellite and disbanded the launch and operations teams.

    I think that if you are a denier or a proponent of global warming, you should be screaming bloody murder for good experimental evidence – you should be writing your congress-critters to get another Orbiting Carbon Observatory launched, and to pull the Deep Space Climate Observatory out of mothballs and get it launched.

    Is global warming happening? From what I’ve read I tend to think so. But I’m just this guy, you know? But I own aquariums, and I know that if you dump a lot of any one chemical into an aquarium the fish usually respond by dying. I’d prefer not to run that particular experiment on our Earth.

  • Let’s Ask The Right Question

    Climate change deniers need to understand that when you get into your car and start it up, the emissions going into the atmosphere are disrupting the natural balance of the atmosphere. There is no question about that.

    Those that accept that climate change is happening also need to keep in mind that there are natural variances in the Earth’s climate. Again, there is no question that this is true.

    And everyone needs to remember that weather is not climate. Record cold or high temperatures in any given day, week, month, or year mean nothing to this debate.

    The question lies in exactly how much of the recorded changes are due to human involvement vs. natural variance.

    The answers I generally read are ‘Very Likely’ or the equally telling ‘Unlikely’. If the science for either side is incontrovertible, let’s answer that question. If we can’t answer the question, why not? This goes for both sides of the debate.

    Science is about skepticism and scrutiny and I cannot find one paper or report that has the answer to this most basic question. If this info exists and my powers over Google just aren’t good enough, please respond with a link so we can verify (or refute) the source material.

    Peer reviewed items or oil money research doesn’t concern me. The information is either incontrovertible or it isn’t. This entire debate has come down to name calling: If you believe that the Earth’s climate is changing and that it’s caused by human involvement, you’re embracing the cult of AGW. If you don’t believe human involvement is having much of an effect on the Earth, you aren’t educated enough to understand the issue. This is unproductive and petty. It either is or it isn’t, and as soon as one side can adequately answer the question we can take whatever appropriate steps are necessary.

    /stepping off my neutral soapbox…

  • Al

    I tend to think this is a case of long term Erosion.
    A glance at the satelite map of the region shows that the village is situated on the bottle neck of an enormous water course. It is also surrounded by a series of smaller water courses and rivers.
    Their are also large lakes inland.
    It seems a ridiculous place to build a village for long term living.
    The traditional occupiers of the land did not build long term villages in their history.

    The village is called “Newtok”.
    The name suggests this place has not been around for a long time.

    I could be wrong, I am no scientist or a local historian,
    BUT, it would be considerate for those without knowledge , who are screaming “proof of Global Warming”, to check the science before jumping to conclusions.

    No doubt people will become more sceptical of Global Warming, when those who preach about it start using words like “denialism”, when people are simply questioning the conclusions made about natural events.
    Let’s see some more science, less name calling.

  • NicoleW

    So let me get this straight, scientists who take money from energy companies are biased and their opinions can’t be trusted, but scientists who take money from government aren’t biased and can be trusted? Really?

    What happens to the the goose laying the golden egg if climate “scientists” who are funded by the government find that there is no real cause for alarm? Check what those who receive no funding say about the matter.

    Get the politics out of science and maybe then we’ll see some real science supported by real data.

  • NicoleW

    One other thought: these people really can’t be relocated for less than $382,352.94 per person – at a minimum??? Offer them each $100,000 to relocate to an existing town/city somewhere inland.

    Yet another example of the ridiculous inefficiencies of our federal government.

  • John Lary

    John Christy, Ph.D. (atmospheric sciences, Univ. Ill.), who is (1) Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, (2) Alabama State Climatologist. (3) awarded Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement by NASA, (4)elected fellowof the American. Meteorological Society, (5) awarded American. Meteorological Society’s Special Award, is not a stooge of the coal and oil companies. He writes:

    “The carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is distributed pretty evenly around the globe and not concentrated in the Arctic, so it doesn’t look like we can blame greenhouse gases for the overwhelming bulk of the Northern Hemisphere warming over the past 27 years. The most likely suspect for that is a natural climate change or cycle that we didn’t expect or just don’t understand.”

    I have heard Dr. Christy speak. He is a critic of the current media-hyped man-made global warming alarmism.

  • padresfan

    global warming? get real. if these natives would research their ancestral journals, they would see their families have always been on the move. as one town became stricken as newtok has, they moved to another location. they did not need an escape route, a quanset hut, the army corps of engineers, or any other rescuers. it was the way of life. if they had no rescue now, they would still make it work. should not be rescued or rebuilt just as new orleans should never have been built where it is.

  • Al

    “Newtok” is a local name. My Mistake.
    But the settlement has only been permanent for 50 years.

    The area of Newtok was NEVER permanently settled. It was only suitable during winter when the ground was firm enough.
    The Ninglick River has been eroding the Newtok area for many years. Rivers in this area have ALWAYS shifted course and changed land mass. Aerial photographs dating back 50 years show a standard progression of Erosion.

    This is NOT an example of the effects of Global Warming.
    Yet a simple google search of “Newtok” will reveal countless references to Global Warming/Climate change.

    I apologised for making an assumption about the place name.
    Would be nice to get an apology from those who have spread false information about the nature of the area.
    This sort of false information will erode any arguments to reduce CO2.

  • Physicist

    The Al Gore hype machine has made a religious cult out of ‘Man-Made’ global warming. There is nothing you can say or do to change the minds of people who have bought into this propaganda. There are ENORMOUS amounts of money to be seized from people buying into the hype – think ‘Cap-and-Trade’ carbon emissions for corporate America.

    I work with roughly 3000 physicists – about 75% PhD…. and I don’t know any who believe in the ‘Man-Made’ global warming cult that Al Gore has created. They data mined science to fit their agenda. Pay scientists grants and provide funding and they will come up with whatever conclusions you are looking for… and if they want to continue to receive funding they have to continue coming up with BS that makes you happy. Anyone remember the 70’s when they were predicting the start of the next ‘Ice Age’ based on similar ‘scientific’ studies. Politicians actually considered launching soot and CO2 into the atmosphere to prevent the next ice age – LOL. Unfortunately things are already set in motion as the masses have already bought into their agenda…they have been extremely successful at turning it into a religion and marketing it to those who want to believe.

  • Bryan

    Take a look at Lake Chad in Africa and you will see there are already “climate refuges” in the world, this is just the beginning for the US. I am rather shocked to see individuals disputing global warming despite the scientifically supported evidence that this is occurring. Typically you will see those with less education believe what they want to believe and not look for evidence based scientific information as a basis to make their decision. I have my MBA and MS and wish there was no global warming. Unfortunately after thousands of hours of research I have determined that we are seeing global warming and I hope that everyone will do their due diligence before coming to any conclusions.

    PS. I am not funded by anybody, this research has cost me a lot of money and scientists are not all coordinating to make up global warming to make money. These scientists could make way more money working for an oil company and hey are often way underfunded.

  • Mac

    Okay! what if the shoes were other way around, how would you explain it?

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