Alaska’s Climate Refugees

The village of Newtok, Alaska, sits on the shore of the Ninglick River, on increasingly unstable land affected by erosion and melting permafrost. To escape the predicted collapse of the village site, residents will soon have to relocate to more stable ground. Newtok, with a population of approximately of 375 ethnically Yupik people, was founded in 1959, but the Yupik have lived on the coastal lands along the Bering Sea for thousands of years. Today, as global temperatures rise, Newtok and several other remote Alaskan villages are threatened by melting permafrost, widening rivers, coastal erosion, and larger storms that come in from the Bering Sea. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the highest point in Newtok—the school—could be underwater by 2017. A new village site called Mertarvik has been established about nine miles away, though so far families have been slow to relocate. Getty Images photographer Andrew Burton spent several days in Newtok recently, documenting the environment, the new town site, and the Yupik way of life in this threatened remote village. (Also worth reading is this earlier story on The Atlantic: When Global Warming Kills Your God.)
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