NEWTOK, Alaska -- More than 180 native communities in Alaska are experiencing flooding and loss of land as ice melts due to climate change. The threatened towns are creating "climate refugees" -- people displaced from their homes by the impact of a changing climate.
Alaska and other arctic regions are experiencing a more rapid rate of warming than the global average. Sea ice is in retreat and the permafrost is melting, bringing the effects of climate change in real time to residents of remote villages.
Unlike those in New Orleans forced to leave their homes because of Hurricane Katrina, their exile is not set in motion by a single cataclysmic event. Climate change in Alaska is a slow-moving disaster. The town of Newtok on the west coast of Alaska faces the complete and permanent flooding of their village within the next five years.
Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the United States over the past 60 years. Freezing occurs later, snow is wetter and heavier. Wildfires are erupting on the tundra during the summer months. Warmer temperatures are thawing the permafrost on which villages have been built.
Data shows Alaska has warmed 4 degrees F since 1949. 2012 saw the largest single-year loss of summer sea ice since satellite records began in the 1970s. Reports continue to predict an ice-free summer on the Arctic Ocean by the year 2030.
This story was shared and published by the National Weather Association Digest.
KGW Meteorologist Rod Hill