Sunday, May 19, 2013
Tension in Shishmaref Changes with the Weather
Already at the center of the global warming debate, Shishmaref braces for more erosion.
This winter’s fragile crust of sea ice that formed along the silty strip on which Shishmaref sits has broken up and been carried away by a Chukchi Sea fury. Up until today it protected the soft sand and dirt that’s already been disappearing at an alarming rate in recent years. Now unprotected, Shishmaref’s real estate is next.
“Thank god Ted Stevens got the money to build that wall.” Ken Stenek, who teaches science at the village school, credits the late U.S. Senator with buying Shishmaref time. The one thousand foot wall is made from boulders and gravel. Its shields most of Shishmaref’s buildings and roads from the surf, but there’s land on either end totally exposed. It’s here where about thirty families maintain property and the wooden racks they use to dry salmon, caribou and tomcod.
Stenek says that land and those racks are in danger. “Things have kind of escalated on people. They’re taking care of business.”
In the last few hours the winds have switched to the southwest, the waves have increased, and residents just received word of a blizzard warning. The principal canceled all after school and evening activities.
The mood has changed. Stenek says folks in Shishmaref are concerned.
“There’s certainly a very heightened awareness right now. We were kind of watching that shore-fast ice. Now that it’s gone, it’s going.”