Shishmaref, Alaska

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Shishmaref is a village in the Nome Census Area, Alaska, United States, located on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait and five miles from the mainland. It lies within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. The population was 562 at the 2000 census.



According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.3 square miles (18.8 km²), of which, 2.8 square miles (7.2 km²) of it is land and 4.5 square miles (11.6 km²) of it (61.62%) is water.

Shishmaref was named in 1821 by explorer Lt. Otto von Kotzebue, of the Imperial Russian Navy, after Capt. Lt. Gleb Shishmaryov who accompanied him on his exploration.

Sarichef Island (on which Shishmaref is located) is part of a dynamic, 100 km-long barrier island chain that records human and environmental history spanning the past 2000 years; the oldest subaerial evidence for the formation of this system is about 1700 14c yr bp (see References, below). Erosion at Shishmaref is unique along the islands because of its fetch exposure and high tidal prism, relatively intense infrastructure development during the 20th century, and multiple shoreline defense structures built beginning in the 1970s.

Global warming

The effect of global climate change upon Shishmaref is sometimes seen as the most dramatic in the world.[2] Rising temperatures have resulted in a reduction in the sea ice which serves to buffer Shishmaref from storm surges. At the same time, the permafrost that the village is built on has also begun to melt, making the shore even more vulnerable to erosion. In recent years the shore has been receding at an average rate of up to 10 feet (3.3 m) per year.[3] Although a series of barricades has been put up to protect the village, the shore has continued to erode at an alarming rate. The town's homes, water system and infrastructure are being undermined.[4] Currently, Shishmaref has obtained funds to construct seawalls that protect some of the shoreline.

The village plans to relocate several miles to the south, on the mainland to the Tin Creek site. The Shishmaref Erosion and Relocation Coalition, made up of the city, the IRA Council and other organizations, is seeking federal, state and private funding for the move. However the cost of moving Shishmaref is estimated at $180 million[5].

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