Indigenous Alaskans Reveal New Face of Climate Change

The United States Geological Survey coordinated interviews with Yup’ik hunters and elders in the villages of St. Mary’s and Pitka’s Point, Alaska, in an effort to allow personal interviews the chance to shed light on the impact of climate change.

The village of St. Mary's, Alaska where USGS scientists conducted interviews with hunters and elders to document their observations of climate change. The village lies in the Yukon River Basin on the banks of the Andreafsky River, a tributary of the Yukon River.

“Many climate change studies are conducted on a large scale, and there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding how climate change will impact specific regions,” said USGS social scientist Nicole Herman-Mercer. “This study helps address that uncertainty and really understand climate change as a socioeconomic issue by talking directly to those with traditional and personal environmental knowledge.”

The interviews reported many varying issues that are now being faced by the natives that were not during the respondent’s childhood. Additionally, the indigenous knowledge which has been passed down includes observations, lessons, and stories about the environment, which provide a long history of environmental knowledge.

The most common statement made by those interviewed was regarding the warmer temperatures in recent years. They noted that it was warmer in all seasons, but it was most evident in winter, where temperatures very rarely reach -40 degrees Celsius any more, and if they do, it is only a brief cold spell and not the month-long cold spell many remembered.

Another common theme was the concern over the thinning of ice on the Yukon and Andreafsky Rivers over the last several years. Thin ice restricts travel, transportation and trade, and one interview participant even noted that several people have drowned when people have fallen through the ice on the Andreafsky River.

There were several other issues raised, including the unpredictability of weather conditions, vegetation patterns and wildlife diversity as well as lower spring melt which is bringing fewer logs down the rivers to be used for fires.

The article was published in the journal Human Organization.

Source: US Geological Survey
Image Source: School District of St. Mary’s, Alaska

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