Villagers from the small coastal Alaskan town of Newtok have endured extreme weather leading to massive erosion, but they hope to stay together as they relocate the entire community to higher ground.

(Video: Phil Daquila/Powering a Nation)

Alaskan village stands on leading edge of climate change

by Anna York/Powering a Nation

Long before scientists spoke of climate change, the elders warned that the villagers should move to higher ground. “We ignored them,” Stanley Tom says. “I didn’t believe them.”

Tom, 49, has grown up watching his village change. As Newtok’s tribal administrator, he is the local equivalent of a mayor in this Yup’ik Eskimo village of 350 residents in southwest Alaska.

A few feet beneath Alaska’s tundra lies a layer of frozen soil called permafrost. Until recent years, this icy soil has remained frozen, providing a foundation for buildings and a sturdy buffer against the sea.

But Alaska’s climate is getting hotter — and quickly. During the past 50 years, the state has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States. Now the permafrost is melting. The foundation under Newtok is crumbling, as are the village’s buildings. The old school and the community hall have buckled and started to sink into the muddy earth.  READ MORE

Learn more:

• Information graphic: How shorelines change in a warming world


Powering a Nation is a News21 project by students of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The project was conceived, reported and produced entirely by the student journalists.

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