This remote Alaskan village could disappear under water within 10 years - here's what life is like there
Located 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 1,000 miles northwest of Anchorage, the remote Alaskan village of Kivalina is literally melting under the weight of climate change.The barrier island has been disappearing under water over the last decade, as the warming ocean causes sea levels to rise and powerful storm surges to eat away at the beach. The US Army Corps of Engineers has said Kivalina will no longer be habitable within 10 years.Advertisement
The future for residents is uncertain. President Barack Obama recommended a budget of $400 million to relocate Alaskan villages like Kivalina in 2016, but Congress has not approved it.
Villagers say it's too late to save Kivalina. But life goes on.
With a new administration in the White House, the future of Kivalina is uncertain.Advertisement
In 2015, President Obama became the first sitting US president to visit a community north of the Arctic Circle, during a tour of Alaska's Northwest Arctic Borough.
But the village's days on the edge of the Arctic Ocean are numbered.Advertisement
The circumstances create a close-knit community that teaches cooperation and vigilance. Those values are essential when residents face some of the harshest conditions on Earth.
Extended families of up to 17 members crowd into the island's 85 single-family homes.Advertisement
Some homes have internet and television, but there's more fun to be had outdoors.
There are no restaurants, coffee shops, fitness centers, or doctor's offices within a hundred miles of Kivalina, but residents have modern conveniences like smartphones.Advertisement
A level of self-sufficiency keeps the cost of living down. People who earn an income in Kivalina work either at the Native Store or a zinc mine about 50 miles outside of town.
Westernized foods can be bought from the Native Store, the only grocer in town. A cargo plane delivers packaged foods, candy, and Pepsi from Anchorage each week.Advertisement
With wildlife habitats disappearing under water, villagers struggle to put food on the table.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet, according to a 2014 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.Advertisement
But the people of Kivalina haven't caught a bowhead whale in over 21 years. The sea ice is melting earlier and earlier in the season, which makes it unsafe for villagers to traverse.
Hunting the bowhead whale — a 60-ton animal whose meat, skin, and blubber can feed a village for more than two months — provides one of the most cherished traditions.Advertisement
Much of the food comes from whatever they kill: caribou, seal, fish, and beluga whales.
There is no running water. Residents fill empty garbage bins with water at the town pump.Advertisement
Snowmobiles, or "snow machines," are the preferred mode of transportation. They move over tundras and ice faster than a sled-dog team, but the vehicles often break down.
Life is simple but challenging in an Eskimo whaling village.Advertisement
Sea walls made up of rocks and sand bags protect the villagers from pummeling waves.
The village, which has a population of about 450, sits on a slip of permanently frozen earth off the coast of Alaska, flanked by a lagoon on one side and the Arctic Ocean on the other.Advertisement
There are no roads to Kivalina, and within 10 years, there could be no coming or going at all. The barrier island is at risk of severe flooding and erosion caused by climate change.
Kivalina is no ordinary small town.Advertisement