Are Alaskan Coastal Villages Well Located? A GIS Research Proposal


It is widely purported that climate change, particularly shoreline erosion, threatens the sustainability of Alaska's coastal native villages. These villages are scattered along the state's western coastline (Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea) and the north slope (Beaufort Sea). Many were originally established as seasonal hunting camps, but have now grown to become "hardened" residential communities. Most lie along exposed shorelines in fine grained, loosely consolidated sediments and glacial outwash underlain by ground ice (permafrost below 1m).

Unstable Footings

The locations of coastal villages were chosen hundreds of years ago for their proximity to harvestable resources, not landscape stability. Tenets of modern land use planning were not considered. The same factors that make for a desirable whaling camp (barrier island location, gently-sloped beaches, proximity to marine mammal migration corridors, etc.) strongly correlate with shoreline instability.

Research Hypothesis

Many stable, alternative village locations lie in close proximity to existing villages along the same coastlines.

Study Design

In a GIS, "seed" coastlines with a set of regularly-spaced points 50km on either side of each coastal village (n=100 for each village). Space the points 2 km apart. Locate each point 200m up from the mean high tide elevation (or similar datum). At each point, determine total shoreline retreat and rate of retreat using historic aerial photos freely available from the NAIP/NHAP archive ( Map magnitudes of shoreline retreat for each point using simple column charts in an spreadsheet program. Use the data to identify locations with stable shorelines (alternative village locations).


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