1 May 2012

Warmer polar regions lead to hardships for arctic inhabitants

Posted by kramsayer

The Arctic is feeling the effects of climate change - with one town seeing the coast crumble nearby (CREDIT: Buzz Hoffman, Flickr)

A few inches of seashore loss per year is usually cause for alarm among coastal communities. This is nothing to the Alaskan inhabitants of Newtok, who have experienced as much as 100 lateral feet of shoreline loss in the same amount of time.

Newtok is a small village about 490 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska, accessible only by air and water. Over the past 60 years, inhabitants of the village have seen nearly 3,800 lateral feet of their coastline disappear into the ocean, said Stanley Tom, a tribal administrator in the town, during a presentation at the American Geophysical Union’s inaugural Science Policy Conference on Tuesday. The land, normally frozen and resilient permafrost, is thawing and becoming increasingly susceptible to erosion.

It’s one result of a greening arctic, said Bruce Forbes, a researcher at the University of Lapland in Finland and another speaker at the conference session on changing arctic ecosystems. Increased temperatures in the Arctic have been a boon to native vegetation and allowed the plants to grow both taller and fuller, he explained, leading to a greener landscape.

When it comes to establishing policy to help cope with a warming arctic, Forbes said it’s important to interact with the local inhabitants like Tom. Locals often have their own set of long-term observations, he mentioned, that could and should be incorporated in any scientific studies of the area.

“If you don’t know what the people on the ground are doing and you don’t have [locals] involved in your research, you really don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

– Eric Villard, AGU science writing intern