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Monday, November 3, 2008

Warming Winds, Rising Tides: Arctic

Sea level rise also affects the Arctic, where it is frequently combines with permafrost thaw to create severe erosion. The native village of Shismaref Alaska, a village of about 590 Inupiats perched on a sandy barrier island on the NW shore of Seward Peninsula, has failed to halt the rising Bering Sea. Shore erosion of the narrow spit has been severe since the 1950s, and protective armor and wire gabions have been ineffective. The town faces a decision to move inland, away from this traditional site. Townspeople voted in 2002 to move their village to higher, more protected ground away from the ocean.

On Baffin Island, across from Greenland in Nunavut, Canada, the loss of ice and permafrost is affecting daily life of native Inuits. Winter hunting and fishing is limited severely by loss of ice. In summer, permafrost is thawing, creating more erosion, and ice that once covered the surrounding mountains year long is nearly all melted. Elders in the village of Pangnirtung report that winds have shifted and winters are getting much shorter -- observations that weather records confirm.

Elisapee Ishulutaq, a 78 year old artist with a spry and radiant smile, was born in an outpost camp when most natives here were nomadic. They were dog sledding as late as July, she remembers, more than two months later than snow and ice breaks up now. "All the mountains were covered with glaciers." she said. "There isn't any deep snow anymore." Elisapee pointed to her younger self in black and white photos on her living room wall. She said there were stories in her childhood about a warmer future. "It was foretold by the elders that sometime the north would warm up and south would cool down."

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