Laying the foundation for resilient coastal communities


Aerial photo of Goodnews Bay.

Average temperatures in Alaska have increased twice as fast as anywhere in the country over the last century. This warming—as much as 6 degrees in winter and three degrees in summer—is expected to continue along with the effects of disappearing sea ice, thawing of permafrost, changes in fish and wildlife patterns, extreme flooding and erosion. These and myriad other changes are affecting Alaskans, particularly those who live along the state’s vast coastline.

Southwest Alaska is one of the most remote regions of the United States and is also one of the most vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet. To help residents understand, prepare for and adapt to climate-related changes, Alaska Sea Grant is funding research and monitoring in various coastal communities. Among them are Goodnews Bay and Port Heiden.

Assistant professor Chris Maio of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Department of Geosciences, has produced a new report that highlights some of the findings of his research in these two Alaska communities. Other researchers involved in the project were Alaska Sea Grant’s Gabe Dunham and Davin Holen, Jacquelyn Overbeck with the state of Alaska, UAF graduate student Richard Buzard, Sue Flensburg with Bristol Bay Native Association, and Erica Lujan of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.


UAF graduate student Richard Buzard takes a high precision topographic measurement using a real-time kinematic GPS system. Chris Maio photo

The report, Laying the Foundation for Resilient Coastal Communities, uses Goodnews Bay and Port Heiden as case studies for identifying the first steps toward building and sustaining resilient coastal communities. Three factors the researchers identified as critical to community resiliency include:

  1. Building sustainable partnerships and supporting environmental coordinators to develop direct community engagement
  2. Development of baseline data sets and assessment of historical shoreline change rates
  3. Applicable data sets that are tailored for local needs, enable informed decisions, and promote collaboration between scientists and local stakeholders.