In 2002, the Alaskan village of Shishmaref (originally named Kigiktaq), on quarter-mile-wide Sarichef Island in the Bering Strait of Alaska, voted to relocate inland after thawing permafrost (see research on global trends here) and decreasing winter sea ice allowed powerful winter waves to dramatically erode away the coast line. The image below, pulled from CNN and sourced from the US Army Corps of Engineers, shows the past and projected erosion of the community’s coast.
Additionally, decreasing and later-forming sea-ice made it difficult for the community to sustain their traditional hunting and fishing practices that got them through the Alaskan winters. The community is made up of about 650 members of the Inupiat Inuit tribe. Just in Alaska, there are another 30 communities that have been identified that face the imminent threat of flooding and erosion (see the map below from the US Government Accountability Office). The film, The Last Days of Shishmaref, documents the community’s struggle (trailer).
Rising seas are already impacting communities and nations around the world. While most are not yet underwater we see severe consequences long before that — cities are losing coast line to the power of rising seas; property values are deteriorating in coastal areas that experience more frequent and “sunny day” flooding; investments in pumping systems, sea walls, and rebuilding infrastructure are costing millions; fresh drinking water sources are become salty; and cultures are being threatened by displacement as some entire nations become uninhabitable. Scientists predict that the seas will continue to rise and impact societies for the rest of this century and well beyond.