Map of Alaska (USA). The village of Shishmaref is located in the northwest.
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Global Warming Endangers an Alaskan Eskimo Village
News story originally written on August 28, 2002

Recent global warming is raising temperatures of arctic regions much faster than other areas on Earth. Not only does this make the arctic warmer but it is also causing the island village of Shishmaref, Alaska to erode slowly into the sea.

Six hundred Eskimo people live in Shishmaref, which is located on a small barrier island off the northwest coast of Alaska. They have noticed over many years that the winters are much warmer than they used to be with less sea ice surrounding their island. In fact, the average winter temperature in Alaska has risen 4 degrees Celsius in the past 40 years, which is about 10 times faster than the rest of the world.

According to Gunter Weller, professor at the University of Alaska, warming of the arctic is much greater than other regions because as the climate warms, snow and ice that cover the surface melt, allows the newly exposed Earth surface to absorb more solar energy which warms the climate even more, melting more snow and ice. This is called a positive feedback loop.

As the arctic warms, the layer of frozen ground called permafrost melts, becoming soft and easily eroded. This means that the small island where the village of Shishmaref sits was once solid but is now basically a pile of shifting sand like the barrier islands of warmer places such as those in North Carolina. Without a protective shield of sea ice, and soft, unfrozen ground the island is vulnerable to damage from severe storms.

Intense erosion has washed away some parts of the island and some houses were relocated. But now, there is no more room to relocate houses and people of the village are considering moving the entire town off the island.

Last modified August 28, 2002 by Lisa Gardiner.

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