Scientists ‘shocked’ by massive snowfall increases among Alaska’s highest peaks


The sun sets on Denali on Dec. 28, 2016, in a view from Kincaid Park. (Erik Hill / ADN)


A team of scientists presented data on Tuesday suggesting that even as the state of Alaska has warmed up extremely rapidly in recent years, snowfall in the iconic Denali National Park has increased dramatically during the era of human-driven global warming.

The researchers from Dartmouth College; the University of Maine, Orono and the University of New Hampshire set up a camp at 13,000 feet atop Mount Hunter, within view of Denali. There, they drilled into the snow to extract lengthy cores of ice that provided a historical record of snowfall patterns going back more than 1,000 years – and found a marked change over the past 150 years or so.

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Murkowski introduces bill to study ocean acidification



Global warming is causing ocean water to become less like baking soda and more like milk, chemically speaking. It’s a phenomena called ocean acidification (OA) and it could have damaging effects for marine life.

A bill announced week by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski seeks to study the effects OA would have on coastal communities. The Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2017 would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess the vulnerability coastal communities have to ocean acidification. It was introduced in the senate on Dec. 14 and announced in a release by Murkowski’s office on Tuesday.

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As permafrost thaws, Western Alaska village cemeteries sink into swampland


As the permafrost thaws, Kongiganak’s cemetery is turning into swampland. (Teresa Cotsirilos / KYUK)


KONGIGANAK — On a crisp day in September, the village of Kongiganak, or Kong, filed into a little white church and laid Maggie Mary Otto to rest.
The service was crowded. An elder and de facto marriage counselor, Otto was beloved. She was the kind of person who cooked steaming plates of walrus for her community every January for Russian Orthodox Christmas – even though she wasn’t Orthodox herself.

After the viewing, Otto’s pallbearers carried her casket outside, placed it on a metal cart, and attached it to the back of a four-wheeler. Kong’s cemetery is a 10-minute drive on a boardwalk over marshy tundra. A procession of four-wheelers followed the casket to a rust-colored hill and a smattering of chalk-white crosses. Rather than lowering Otto’s body into the ground, pallbearers placed her casket on a low wooden platform, raised about 6 inches above the ground on blocks. A half-dozen men lifted a white, wooden box and placed it over her casket to protect it from the elements, covering it completely.

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Stretch of road in Southwest Alaska village falls into the sea


Port Heiden’s road to the safe harbor and old village was closed in November due to erosion. Photo taken Nov. 22, 2017. (Chasen Cunitz via KDLG)


Port Heiden on the Alaska Peninsula is losing shoreline quickly. Wind and waves have pushed the coast inland by an average of about 30 feet this year. Areas along the road from Port Heiden to the safe harbor and old village site lost roughly 17 feet in November. At the end of the month, the village closed the road because it is no longer safe to drive.

A crucial section of that road winds along a 12-foot bluff above the beach. It is a crust of dry land hemmed in by the bluff edge on one side and Goldfish Lake on the other.

“The road is basically gone. (Erosion)’s cut right half into the road,” said Scott Anderson, the Native Village pf Port Heiden’s tribal environmental director.

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Higher Ground: Protecting Human Rights as the Climate Crisis Forces Coastal Retreat

Human rights are the moral fibers woven throughout humanity and remind us that we each deserve to live lives of dignity. The right to be free from hunger, the right to housing, the right to safe drinking water, and the right to an adequate standard of living constitute the foundation upon which freedom, justice, and peace can flourish.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, is the seminal document that articulates these inalienable rights to which all human beings are entitled. Since 1948, numerous international documents affirm the importance of human rights, including the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Governments do not bestow these rights upon us, but governments are required to promote, protect, and fulfill the human rights principles articulated in these documents. When human rights are violated, a tear occurs in our human tapestry and we must act to ensure that the violation stops and that rights are once again protected.


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Immigration Attorneys Warn Against Using The Term “Climate Refugee”


People walk among debris on the seashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, September 21, 2017. 


With so much destruction from this season’s hurricanes in the Caribbean, there are going to be a lot of people on the move — looking to start their lives in new places. We’ve already seen mass movements of people from areas plagued by drought, floods or storms. Many casually refer to these people as “climate refugees.”


But the problem with the term climate refugee starts with the word “refugee.”


“The term refugee has some very serious legal consequences, and it’s a very rigid legal definition. It’s usually an individual determination based on a person’s fear of persecution,” explains Mara Kimmel, an immigration attorney in Anchorage, Alaska.


The legal definition of refugee goes back to the years following World War II when the United Nations defined a refugee as an individual outside of his or her own country, someone who can’t return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.


“I don’t think that’s necessarily translatable to a situation where whole communities are being forced to flee and to relocate because of climate change,” says Kimmel.


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We Will Protect The Human Rights Of ‘Dreamers’

Ana Lavagnino, center, who said she is a daughter of an immigrant, shows her support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) during a rally in Anchorage on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in the wake of President Trump’s announcement to end protection for hundreds of thousands of “dreamers,” children who were brought to the U.S. and have been living here illegally. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)


President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the program for immigrant youth is devastating for Alaskans.
I work as the executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice. We are the only nonprofit in Alaska dedicated to protecting the human rights of all Alaskans that provides free and low-cost immigration legal services.

Since President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, our office has represented dozens of young people seeking the basic documents that allow them to come out of the shadows of our community.  DACA allowed these youth to acquire temporary permission to be in the United States.

With this immigration process they could, for the first time, get authorization to work, Social Security numbers and drivers licenses. Some are parents, grandchildren, and siblings of United States citizens.

They came to the United States from Israel, Russia, Samoa, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. They are university students, business owners, disabled, hard workers and just wanting the opportunity to pursue their future dreams. They are us.

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Many Native Communities Are Being Forced to Relocate Due to Climate Change

Globally, the twenty-first century has seen 16 of the hottest 17 years on record. In the Pacific Northwest, average air temperatures, which rose only 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit between 1895 and 2014, are expected to increase another 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Heavy rainfall events have increased in frequency, snowfall has decreased, and glaciers have pulled back, retreating deep into Washington’s mountains. The Anderson Glacier, for example, which historically fed the Quinault River, shrank by 90 percent between 1927 and 2009. And as overall precipitation decreases and glaciers shrink, stream flows are also declining.

“One of the critical components to creating this relocation institutional framework is to design a community-based monitoring and assessment tool with state and federal government agencies,” Bronen says.

Such a tool would help ensure that, before disaster strikes, people are able to determine whether relocation is necessary, and when. Bronen expects the model will be replicable in service of communities across the world. That’s a tall order. “We are creating something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, so it’s just really hard,” she says.

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The Alaskan village of Kivalina (image: Shorezone/Flickr)


Displaced By Climate Change – June 6th at Williwaw

Tuesday, June 6th
6:00 p.m. (doors open at 5:30)
Williwaw, 601 F Street, Anchorage
No entry fee, open to the public

Join the Alaska Institute for Justice Research and Policy Institute in welcoming guest speakers Salote Soqo and Patricia Cochran as they address their experiences on the “front lines” of environmental justice and climate action in the South Pacific and Alaska.

Salote Soqo is Senior Program Leader of Environmental Justice & Climate Action with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) focused on advancing and protecting the rights of peoples displaced by climate change. Salote is a native of Fiji, an island in the South Pacific that is experiencing forced displacement of coastal and rural communities as a result of rising seas, natural disasters and increased temperatures. Her program focuses on lifting the voices of communities that are most at risk to this issue by providing them with resources and tools to empower and protect communities and to defend their inalienable human rights and human dignities. UUSC’s program targets to serve indigenous communities in the South Pacific and in Alaska. Salote emphasizes the urgency of this crisis, “These are indigenous communities and what they are experiencing is directly impinging on their basic human rights and their values as indigenous people. Governments must urgently respond to this crisis to protect the rights and dignities of their communities.”

Patricia Cochran is an Inupiat Eskimo born and raised in Nome, Alaska. She serves as Executive Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission (ANSC), a public, not-for-profit corporation. The ANSC provides a linkage for creating partnerships and communication between science and research and Alaska Native communities. Ms. Cochran previously served as Administrator of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage; Executive Director of the Alaska Community Development Corporation; Local Government Program Director with the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and Director of Employment and Training for the North Pacific Rim Native Corporation (Chugachmiut). She also served as Chair of the 2009 Indigenous Peoples’ Global Network on Climate Change and former Chaire of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, an international organization representing 155,000 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Greenland.

Alaska is at the forefront of one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of the 21st century. As the Arctic disproportionately bears the consequences of a rapidly changing climate, Alaska Native communities are facing an urgent need to relocate. Join us to discuss this critical issue!

Displaced By Climate Change Flyer June 6

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Carla Timpone Award for Activism Awarded to Kari Robinson

Congratulations to Kari Robinson, AIJ Deputy Director, for garnering the 2017 Carla Timpone Award for Activism. The award, from the Alaska Women’s Lobby, honors hard work, dedication, and leadership in Juneau. Thank you, Kari, for your advocacy and work on behalf of Alaskan women, children and families!

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