Marine Advisory Program launches website with tools, videos, resources to help coastal communities adapt to climate change



NR: SG-2011/NR322

Anchorage, Alaska—As politicians and pundits debate the causes of climate change, the people who live and work in Alaska already know one thing for sure.

The climate is changing, and they are feeling the effects. Take the Alaska Native village of Quinhagak (QUINN-uh-hawk), along Kuskokwim Bay in Southwest Alaska, that's inhabited by 670 people.

"Quinhagak is not like it used to be, you know, a lot of snow," recalled Wassilie Pleasant, a local resident and member of the village Native corporation. "You could even walk onto the tops of the houses because there was so much snow, they were almost covered. Today there is hardly any snow. It seems like every year it gets worse. It's not cold anymore."

Quinhagak is like dozens of other Alaska communities whose residents are coping with milder winters that bring less snow; thinner sea and river ice that make subsistence hunting more expensive, difficult and dangerous; rapidly thawing permafrost that shifts their homes and collapses their below-ground food cellars; seasonal river flooding that inundates their villages; increased forest fires that threaten villages; and other environmental changes brought on by a warming northern climate.

As their ancestors did for countless generations, today's Alaskans will adapt. But unlike the past, Alaskans now have some modern tools to help.

Many of these tools are found on a new website launched by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

The new website offers adaptation tools, two new videos, fact sheets and other resources that can help individuals and communities take stock of the changes they are facing and plan for coping with these changes.

"There are some very concrete steps communities can take to adapt to climate change," said Terry Chapin, an ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "Communities can think about their goals and ways of achieving them, given the environmental changes occurring around them."

Wassilie Pleasant and Terry Chapin are among a host of Alaskans who appear in a free 17-minute video offered on the website called "Adapting to Climate Change." The video describes the steps five Alaska communities have taken to deal with the effects of a rapidly changing climate on their lifestyles, community infrastructure, and culture.

A second set of three short videos, "Faces of Climate Change," takes the viewer through the many ways climate change is affecting ice in Alaska, and the impacts of these changes on animals and humans.

The website highlights tools and offers manuals to help people and communities begin planning for their future, whether it be planning to move an entire village out of the flood zone, implementing forest fire response plans, controlling beach erosion, adjusting transportation routes, or other steps unique to a particular individual and village. The website also contains numerous links to state, university and federal programs that have specific offerings relevant to climate change planning.

"Our hope is that the tools, resources and videos we offer on the website will inspire communities to think about what they can do now to anticipate and prepare for changes occurring in their region of Alaska," said Paula Cullenberg, program leader and coastal community development specialist at the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

For more information, visit the Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Alaska website.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a statewide marine research, education, communication, and extension service at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Alaska Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and private industry.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is a statewide university extension and technical assistance program that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy Alaska's marine and coastal resources.