'More water, less ice': Alaska village of Port Heiden battles climate change
People who live in the Alaska Peninsula village of Port Heiden may have a front row seat when it comes to climate change. Chris Maio, a scientist with the University of Fairbanks who has been studying the issue, said the coastal community is losing an average of 40 feet of shoreline a year.
A recent report sponsored by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium that investigated climate change in Port Heiden found the community has seen an increase in air temperatures, as well as severe storms and resulting erosion.
Most recently, a road that villagers used to drive to an old village site, as well as a safe harbor for fishing boats, was closed after it became too dangerous to drive because of erosion.
Jaclyn Christensen is the Brownfield Coordinator for Port Heiden. As part of her job, she monitors environmental concerns in the village. Christensen said villagers moved further inland years ago but they didn't escape the effects of climate change.
"We have more water; less ice," said Christensen, noting the village is more prone to flooding. She said the erosion has become a threat to the village's bulk fuel storage tanks, as well as the village school.
"We don't have a lot of funding to build a new school, or even move the school, because it's not a small building," said Christensen.
Warmer temperatures have also brought unusual visitors to Port Heiden's shores. Last April, Christensen's husband, who grew up in the village, saw a large gathering of walrus on the beach, a first in his recollection.
Despite the problems climate change has caused, Christensen said she considers the village home and has no intention of leaving anytime soon.
"We are not going to move out of our region because this is where we come from," she said. "It's who we are, it's literally our lifeblood to be there."
She said, at some point, the community may have to pull back further from the sea but she hopes it isn't far.
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