Icon for: Allison Woodward

ALLISON WOODWARD

University of Alaska at Fairbanks
Years in Grad School: 6
Judges’
Choice

Judges’ Queries and Presenter’s Replies

  • May 20, 2013 | 04:53 p.m.

    Interesting work, Allison! One of your project objectives was to “share relevant information” to aid communities in responding to permafrost changes. Would you please describe one of the ways in which you have addressed/achieved that objective?
    Thank you,
    Catherine

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 11:10 p.m.

    Hi Catherine, thanks for your interest in my work. Throughout this project we have tried to be responsive to community needs, and have asked residents for their input on ways our research could be helpful to them. Many Selawik residents told us that they would like to see the permafrost monitoring continue, to give them earlier and better awareness of changes that might affect their community. Since long-term ecological monitoring does not fall within the scope of my graduate research, and we know of no such ongoing programs, we decided to develop a set of “tools” a group of residents could use to start their own community-based permafrost monitoring program. We have put together a set of non-technical information sheets and data forms showing how to plan and implement a local study, how to obtain (or make) and use the simple equipment needed, and how to record and understand the data collected. Over just a few days in early fall before the ground begins to freeze, data could be collected and analyzed for the year and used to track changes over time. This could be done by a village environmental coordinator, a volunteer group, or even students in a science class – it would make a great ongoing educational program with true local relevance.

    So far I’ve shared information with communities at two conferences that attract many rural Alaska Native attendees. In 2011, I was invited to lead a workshop on “Changing Permafrost: Monitoring and Responding to Thawing Permafrost in Alaska Native Villages” at the Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management, in the workshop track entitled “Climate Change Adaptation Planning and Strategies for Alaska Native Villages.” In the 2012 Alaska Forum on the Environment, I gave a similar presentation. I plan to offer hands-on workshops in Selawik and Anaktuvuk Pass when I return to present my completed research findings to the communities. Ideally, I would like hold such workshops in additional interested communities to encourage and enable them to begin monitoring and watching for changes in the permafrost beneath their own villages, so they can better anticipate and cope with potential impacts.

  • May 23, 2013 | 01:19 p.m.

    Thank you, Allison. I really look your ideas for implementing your findings.
    Catherine

  • May 21, 2013 | 09:32 a.m.

    Hello: Your project is really addressing an interesting and important problem – congratulations! I gather from the work you have presented that the primary resilience/ adaptation strategy for these communities is relocation. Can you please describe if there are other strategies that have emerged as alternatives, especially in light of the economic cost of relocation to the communities? Thank-you.

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 11:11 p.m.

    Hi Patricia, thanks for your question. If rapid permafrost change continues as projected, relocation may be the only viable option for some communities grappling with severe erosion, inundation, and other such climate-induced challenges, but it is certainly not the preferred option. No state or federal resources have been allocated to shoulder the huge financial burden of relocating numerous threatened villages, and no agency is so far responsible for this monumental task. Co-location with other existing communities would be less expensive, yet much more culturally costly to the Inupiat, whose cultural identities derive from the unique relationships each group has developed with the natural surroundings of their homelands. The Iñupiat have historically been semi-nomadic, ranging seasonally throughout a large home territory to access available resources. For most villages permanent settlements have only been in place for about a century or less, and many Elders still recall seasonal migrations from their childhoods. Yet although the practice of relocation is ancient, modern infrastructure cannot be easily moved, and most people are now reluctant to leave the patch of ground they have called home for most or all of their lives.

    Mitigation strategies that allow them to stay in their homes and where their ancestors are buried are the first choices. Shoreline erosion control measures, such as hardening banks with logs, planting willows to increase soil stability, and moving boat landings to reduce wake damage have all been used with some success in Selawik to reduce stress on increasingly vulnerable river banks. They are also experimenting with different building foundations that help insulate and reduce heat conduction to the underlying permafrost, and those that can be easily adjusted as the ground shifts, or even moved to more stable locations within the village. Selawik has long used a network of boardwalks throughout the village to avoid the muddy mires produced when the fragile tundra is damaged by foot traffic and ATVs and snow-gos (rural Alaskan term for snowmobiles) that are their primary vehicles. They are in the process of replacing and improving some of these boardwalks, and building raised roads to access facilities and infrastructure near the village. Additional trail protection measures may be useful in the future as permafrost continues to degrade. They are also planning to upgrade their city water processing to cope with increasing turbidity from erosion. Energy conservation and local renewable energy sources can help lower staggering village energy costs, thus reducing economic stresses that exacerbate challenges of thawing permafrost. Community greenhouses could improve nutrition and increase food security while also lowering economic burdens. These and other direct and indirect mitigation strategies are becoming increasingly attractive ways to adapt in place, and may prevent or postpone the need for relocation in some communities threatened by thawing permafrost.

  • May 21, 2013 | 07:31 p.m.

    Hello: Great research topic, interesting video, good narration! However, I have some questions: Do you think that the active layer thaw depth measurements can provide an accurate picture of the land behavior? Do you think, if the permafrost continues to melt at a rapid pace, the Selawik townspeople would move to a higher location, or stay and try to adapt to the new reality? Thank you.

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 11:15 p.m.

    Hi Liliana, thanks for your inquiries. By themselves, the active layer thaw depths I measured serve as snapshots, both spatially and temporally. If thaw depths continue to be monitored over time, researchers may be able to accurately document patterns of change from these initial baselines. I sincerely hope that villages like Selawik will take on this research by implement their own long-term thaw depth monitoring programs, as described in my response to Catherine’s query, to improve understanding of the permafrost dynamics in the areas most pertinent to them. In some cases, even one-time measurements can be used for more solid inferences. For example, measurements I made beneath Selawik’s bulk fuel storage platform indicate that the structure has influenced the permafrost beneath it. Thaw depths were significantly deeper immediately surrounding the support pilings, indicating that heat transfer down the metal has thawed the ground more than the air temperatures to which the rest of the ground beneath the platform has been exposed. And shallower thaw depths overall beneath the platform as compared with the nearby tundra suggests that the presence of the platform has actually protected the permafrost by shading it from summer insolation, and reducing the accumulation of snow that would otherwise insulate it from the frigid winter air. I infer from this that the mean annual surface temperature below the platform is lower than that of the unaffected tundra nearby, and that the permafrost supporting this important infrastructure is stable, at least under recent climatic conditions.

    In response to your second question, I think that Selawik residents will stay in their present location as long as possible, implementing some of the strategies I described for Patricia’s query. However, if permafrost continues to thaw rapidly, I and many of the villagers I spoke with believe relocation will be necessary. In contrast with several other Alaska Native communities that may be forced to relocate, such as Shishmaref and Kivalina, Selawik is fortunate to have a thaw-stable relocation site that lies within their traditional lands. Some infrastructure has already been built there as part of an agricultural project, and many residents I spoke with assume the village will move there if and when they are forced to relocate. Some residents have suggested that an evacuation road be built now, in case a flood or other catastrophic event strikes suddenly. A road would also allow them to transition over time and more by their own means, thereby reducing overall costs and reliance on outside assistance. This site in the nearby hills would still give them feasible access to the lands and waters that sustain their subsistence harvests.

  • Icon for: J Yeakley

    J Yeakley

    Judge
    May 21, 2013 | 07:49 p.m.

    Hi Allison. That’s a truly excellent video that frames the problem effectively, both in terms of the natural system change and in terms of the residents’ ways of life that will be affected by the change. My query concerns your hypothesis, which is stated as “We hypothesized that residents of both villages will report permafrost change, and that the impacts and perceived implications of thawing permafrost will be greater in Selawik.” Since your stated objective concerns resilience, I’m wondering what you will be measuring in this socio-ecological system that will help you gauge this quality in response to this environmental threat? Certainly to get at resilience it’s more than just measuring the perception of a problem, correct? Thank you, Alan

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 23, 2013 | 12:00 a.m.

    Hi Alan, I’m glad you enjoyed the video, and thanks for this question that allows me to explain an important segment of my research that’s still in progress.
    Gauging resilience of these communities to the impacts of thawing permafrost will be based on a variety of indicators of vulnerability and adaptive capacity. So far my integrated research has been aimed at understanding local conditions and looking for evidence of change that may have occurred over the past several decades. Biophysical indicators of current permafrost conditions and change will help me to understand each community’s exposure to stresses brought about by thawing permafrost. These include my thaw depth measurements and documentation of local thermokarst failures. Although my thaw depths are spatial and temporal “snapshots,” as discussed above for Liliana’s questions, certain results, such as increased thaw depths beneath ATV trails and apparent protection given to the permafrost by certain infrastructure characteristics serve as indicators of human activities affecting permafrost dynamics, and thus pointing to certain vulnerability and adaptive strategies that might be useful in coping with these changes. My firsthand documentation of bank erosion and comparisons made in repeat photography also show direct impacts in some cases. I also plan to analyze and compare surface hydrology changes for both study communities from aerial imagery time series over recent decades.
    Residents’ perceptions of the problem certainly can’t answer the question of resilience alone, but they can reveal important information about each community’s exposures and sensitivities to stresses in the social-ecological system, and provide some indications of adaptive capacity. My surveys and interviews also provided valuable and otherwise unobtainable information about social-ecological system characteristics and changes based on lifetimes of careful observation of the ecosystems upon which the Inupiat way of life depends. Residents’ direct observations and experiences pertained to erosion, phenology, species they routinely harvest, infrastructure, water quality, travel hazards, etc., many of which differed between the two communities. Because of their long and close relationship with the land, residents’ observations of change over time give extremely valuable insights into the nature and rate of changes that most affect their lives and the species on which they depend – and on how the social-ecological system to which they belong is beginning to respond.
    I am relying on secondary information sources for additional indicators of vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities as measures of resilience. For example, geophysical data from previous engineering surveys show ground structure and indicate thaw vulnerability of certain infrastructure. Findings from our ARCSS/NSF collaborative research team, climate projections, and other sources in the literature will help me gauge ecosystem stresses and potential responses. Socioeconomic data, systems of governance, institutions, infrastructure, and regulatory constraints, are among the many indicators of social capital I will consider in assessing community vulnerability and adaptive capacity, and thus potential resilience to impacts of thawing permafrost.

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 11:59 p.m.

    Hi Alan, I’m glad you enjoyed the video, and thanks for this question that allows me to explain an important segment of my research that’s still in progress.
    Gauging resilience of these communities to the impacts of thawing permafrost will be based on a variety of indicators of vulnerability and adaptive capacity. So far my integrated research has been aimed at understanding local conditions and looking for evidence of change that may have occurred over the past several decades. Biophysical indicators of current permafrost conditions and change will help me to understand each community’s exposure to stresses brought about by thawing permafrost. These include my thaw depth measurements and documentation of local thermokarst failures. Although my thaw depths are spatial and temporal “snapshots,” as discussed above for Liliana’s questions, certain results, such as increased thaw depths beneath ATV trails and apparent protection given to the permafrost by certain infrastructure characteristics serve as indicators of human activities affecting permafrost dynamics, and thus pointing to certain vulnerability and adaptive strategies that might be useful in coping with these changes. My firsthand documentation of bank erosion and comparisons made in repeat photography also show direct impacts in some cases. I also plan to analyze and compare surface hydrology changes for both study communities from aerial imagery time series over recent decades.
    Residents’ perceptions of the problem certainly can’t answer the question of resilience alone, but they can reveal important information about each community’s exposures and sensitivities to stresses in the social-ecological system, and provide some indications of adaptive capacity. My surveys and interviews also provided valuable and otherwise unobtainable information about social-ecological system characteristics and changes based on lifetimes of careful observation of the ecosystems upon which the Inupiat way of life depends. Residents’ direct observations and experiences pertained to erosion, phenology, species they routinely harvest, infrastructure, water quality, travel hazards, etc., many of which differed between the two communities. Because of their long and close relationship with the land, residents’ observations of change over time give extremely valuable insights into the nature and rate of changes that most affect their lives and the species on which they depend – and on how the social-ecological system to which they belong is beginning to respond.
    I am relying on secondary information sources for additional indicators of vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities as measures of resilience. For example, geophysical data from previous engineering surveys show ground structure and indicate thaw vulnerability of certain infrastructure. Findings from our ARCSS/NSF collaborative research team, climate projections, and other sources in the literature will help me gauge ecosystem stresses and potential responses. Socioeconomic data, systems of governance, institutions, infrastructure, and regulatory constraints, are among the many indicators of social capital I will consider in assessing community vulnerability and adaptive capacity, and thus potential resilience to impacts of thawing permafrost.

  • Further posting is closed as the competition has ended.

Presentation Discussion
  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    Faculty
    May 20, 2013 | 09:03 a.m.

    I enjoyed this a lot. One question: I get the impression from the poster that Anaktuvuk folk are in part buffered from climate change impacts because they are somewhat more integrated into the “mainstream” economy, while Selawik folk are more centrally affected by the changes to permafrost and ice — as well as having fewer resources to respond. To what extent have Anaktuvuk culture or life-ways already been transformed by economic opportunity etc.? How that process is going on might have some implications for the future trajectory of Selawik if they have to translocate?

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 25, 2013 | 05:45 p.m.

    Hi Brian, thanks for asking. Anaktuvuk Pass enjoys a bit more tourism than Selawik, mostly eco-tourists visiting the Gates of the Arctic National Park, and hunters seeking the area’s abundant big game. They have an outstanding little museum of local history and culture, and they are known for their distinctive and beautiful Anaktuvuk masks, faces made from caribou skin ruffed with fur. Otherwise though, the local economic activities and day-to-day life are pretty similar in Anaktuvuk Pass and Selawik. Both communities are isolated and remote, and both participate in a “mixed cash-subsistence economy.” In this system, some income is earned through paying jobs, but they also rely heavily on the natural abundance of their respective ecosystems for food and cultural wealth. The big economic difference is due to the oil wealth of Alaska’s North Slope. Almost all Alaska Native villages belong to several regional-scale organizations, and within those organizations members share resources. Anaktuvuk Pass lies within the North Slope Borough, and most of its Inupiat residents are shareholders in the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. Through oil revenues from Alaska’s North Slope, subsequent investments, and other enterprises, these organizations have brought far greater financial resources to North Slope communities compared with most other villages in Alaska, including Selawik. So in this way Anaktuvuk Pass has more of a safety net than Selawik. Selawik and its potential relocation site both lie within the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge. Whether or not they relocate, Selawik could boost its local economy by developing facilities and services to attract more birders and other eco-tourists into the community, although finding suitable building sites would be more feasible in the proposed relocation area. It would be beneficial in their community planning process to look to Anaktuvuk Pass and other villages for successful models. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Selawik or other villages in their region will ever have the financial resources oil has provided North Slope villages, so the cost of relocation will be a major challenge if Selawik is forced to move.

  • May 21, 2013 | 11:21 a.m.

    very interesting, important research Allisom. Your questions are incredibly important! congrats and best of luck on this competition!

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 25, 2013 | 05:23 p.m.

    Thanks, I appreciate it.

  • May 22, 2013 | 01:54 p.m.

    Nice job integrating the social and natural science components. Nowhere is that more on-display than your cool Alaska maps overlaid with permafrost type, eco-regions and languages. Very cool. I’m glad someone is representing arctic issues.

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    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 25, 2013 | 05:23 p.m.

    Thanks! I really enjoyed learning about your whale energetics project, too. Awesome video.

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    Larry Duffy

    Guest
    May 22, 2013 | 02:28 p.m.

    I agree nice job of integrating the social and natural
    sciences. This info hopefully will be used by goverment policy makers

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 25, 2013 | 05:27 p.m.

    Thanks, Larry. Some policy makers have expressed interest, and we will certainly bring this work to their attention when we complete the project.

  • May 23, 2013 | 12:14 a.m.

    Great research… melting permafrost has a host of social, economic and environmental concerns in an era of climate change concern.

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 25, 2013 | 05:28 p.m.

    Thanks, Tony. It really is changing fast here in Alaska.

  • May 23, 2013 | 12:40 a.m.

    What an amazing and truly interdisciplinary project. Good luck!

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 25, 2013 | 05:45 p.m.

    Thank you!

  • May 24, 2013 | 05:01 p.m.

    Congratulations! you did a great job linking native population and vulnerability differences to climate change. Your work will help to develop better adaptation strategies.

  • Icon for: Allison Woodward

    Allison Woodward

    Presenter
    May 25, 2013 | 05:33 p.m.

    Thanks. I sincerely hope communities will find this work helpful. Adapting to our rapid change is a huge and growing challenge in many areas of Alaska.

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    judith biermann

    Guest
    May 26, 2013 | 05:27 p.m.

    I liked being made aware of how another area is being affected by global warming

  • Further posting is closed as the competition has ended.