The village of Kivalina sits on the tip of a six- to eight-mile-long barrier island – a quarter-mile at its widest – some 80 to 120 miles above the Arctic Circle between the Chukchi Sea and the Kivalina Lagoon in Alaska. It is home to about 400 Inupiat people and reachable only by plane and boat in the summer and plane and snowmobile in winter.
Meteorological data show that average temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic region as elsewhere in the world. For Kivalina, this means that the once-thick layer of ice that formed every September on the Chukchi Sea, sheltering the island from fall storms, now forms later in the year and is becoming thinner, while the permafrost – the frozen ground under the surface – is melting.
Without a thick, protective layer of ice to protect Kivalina from the fall storms, the village’s sea-facing shoreline erodes and storm surge-related flooding threatens its residents.
In 2009, a contractor built a $12 million rock seawall to slow the erosion, making Kivalina inhabitable for another 10 to 15 years, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates.