Personal interviews with Alaska Natives in the Yukon River Basin provide unique insights on climate change and its impacts, helping develop adaptation strategies for these local communities. The USGS coordinated interviews with Yup’ik hunters and elders in the villages of St. Mary’s and Pitka’s Point, Alaska, to document their observations of climate change. They expressed concerns ranging from safety, such as unpredictable weather patterns and dangerous ice conditions, to changes in plants and animals as well as decreased availability of firewood. . By integrating scientific studies with indigenous observation, these multiple forms of knowledge allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the complex challenges posed by climate change.
The most common statement by interview participants was about warmer temperature in recent years. It was observed to be warmer in all seasons, though most notably in the winter months. In previous generations, winter temperatures dropped to 40 degrees Celsius below freezing, while in present times temperatures only reach 25 C or 30 C below freezing. The considerable thinning of ice on the Yukon and Andreafsky Rivers in recent years was the topic of several interviews.
One interview participant also discussed how the Andreafsky River, on whose banks their village lies, no longer freezes in certain spots, and several people have drowned after falling through the resulting holes in the ice. Participants also discussed lower spring snowmelt flows on the Andreafsky and Yukon Rivers, meaning less logs are flowing down the river. This hampers people’s ability to collect logs for firewood and building materials, placing a strain on an already economically depressed region through increased heating costs and reliance on expensive fossil fuels.
Title: Observations of Climate Change from Indigenous Alaskans.
Publication: USGS Newsroom.
Author: Nicole Herman-Mercer, Jessica Robertson
Student researcher: Sean Lawrence, Sonoma State University
Faculty Advisor: Peter Phillips, Sonoma State University