Kotzebue, Alaska
Aerial view of Kotzebue, Alaska (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Alaskan community of Kotzebue lies at the tip of a peninsula jutting into cold Arctic waters.

Ulmer: “I had an elder tell me that in his 70 years, and in his father’s 91 years, there had never been a winter when Kotzebue Sound hadn’t frozen over completely …”

… until last winter.

Fran Ulmer chairs the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, which advises the government on Arctic science and policy. She says the loss of sea ice threatens many Alaskans’ way of life.

Ulmer: “Many of the indigenous communities of the north rely on fish and wildlife. If there isn’t enough ice for the hunters or the fishers to go out on the ice – that compromises their ability to get their food.”

What’s more, with less sea ice protecting the coasts, tides and storm waves cause more erosion.

Ulmer: “Thirty-one villages have been identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as at-risk because of this combination of coastal erosion from less sea ice and bigger storms and thawing permafrost.”

Some villages see no choice but to plan for relocation – a difficult and expensive process.

Ulmer: “It is quite clear that for the people of the Arctic, climate change is happening now and it is changing lives.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.