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 Home >> Eco Scope >> Global Warming
 Alaska's permafrost is turning mushy!
By Mahesh Menon, Hi-Tech Editorial Division
Published on February 6, 2006, 7:33 pm

Shishmaref is sinking into the sea

Alaska is one of the worst affected countries by global warming. According to a Federal study conducted in December 2005, continued global warming would result in the melting down of the top 11ft (3.3m) of permafrost in Alaska by 2100. The ice-rich permafrost which is the physical foundation of virtually everything - the forests, houses and roads - is so deeply affected by global warming that Alaska is literally sinking.

In addition, some scientists believe that melt down of the permafrost would release vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which would further aggravate the greenhouse effect.

Rising temperatures are causing Alaska's permafrost to turn mushy. This in turn has led to roads collapsing and the ground beneath homes is melting, forcing entire villages to move. Almost 98% of glaciers and sea ice on Alaska's coast are thawing which, in turn, causes a rise in the sea level.

Erosion has literally taken away 100ft (approx 30m) of Alaska's landscape. According to federal and state officials in Alaska, nearly 86.4% of Alaska's native villages experience some level of flooding and erosion.

Since 83% of Alaska is built on permafrost, melting is causing a great deal of concern. Permafrost thawing has caused sinking of buildings, rippling of bike trails, shrinking of lakes, and toppling of forests.

The village of Shishmaref has already felt the pinch of permafrost melting, as three houses have fallen into the sea and seven houses have had to be relocated. Engineers have predicted that the entire village involving around 600 houses might disappear into the sea within the next few decades.

Many federal and state programs do offer limited assistance addressing flooding and erosion due to permafrost melting to native villages in Alaska. However, these programs are not preventive programs, but are to assist communities in tackling the consequences of flooding and erosion.

The inhabitants of Kivalina, Shishmaref, Koyukuk, and Newtok are thinking about moving from their ancestral lands that have almost been destroyed by melting permafrost and Bering Sea wind erosion. Remaining villages are taking other preventive measures.

Relocating these villages will be an unavoidably expensive business. For instance, the basic estimate to relocate Kivalina (with a population of around 385) could range from $100m USD for design and construction of new infrastructure, including a gravel pad, at one site and up to $400m USD for just the cost of building a gravel pad at another site.

Bethel, a southwest regional hub in Alaska has a project underway to repair an existing seawall and extending it 1,200ft (30m) to protect the entrance to the village's small boat harbor, at an initial cost estimate of over $4.7m USD.

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